More than nine million people in the West African country of Ghana don’t have access to clean drinking water, according to Water Aid America.
In fact, most Ghanaians even boil and filter tap water. In numerous, poor, remote areas, people can’t afford filters, so they drink muddy water from nearby streams.
Take the town of Kordiabe. It takes about two hours to get there by car from Ghana’s capital of Accra. Some of the paved roads near the village are muddy and filled with potholes so large, many drivers use the shoulder.
Many of the homes in Kordiabe are cinderblock, one-room, tin-roofed dwellings. Some are made of mud. Few of the town’s 3600 residents have running water.
Father Andrew Campbell, a Catholic priest, lives in Accra, but has spent a lot of time in Kordiabe, building a clinic and fish farm and renovating the school, among other projects. He said most of Kordiabe’s residents get their water from a large lake. “It's dirty water,” he said. And it’s unfortunate that that’s what they have to bathe in and drink. “Goodness, it’s no telling what sort of diseases you get from that lake.”
A long, narrow dirt road leads to the lake, created by a dam across a nearby river. Small children walk along the side of the road carrying buckets of all sizes.
On a recent day, along the banks of the lake, four young boys drink the muddy-colored water they’ve been swimming in. Reuben Allotuynii said they don’t have other options. “We drink this water if we come to the stream...if we are thirsty,” Allotuynii said. He added that even though he has gotten sick from drinking the water, he is not afraid to continue drinking it. It’s a way of life that he and the other boys accept.
A bit farther down the road, about 15 teenagers swim and frolic in the dam. They drink the water too, even though some have washed their clothes here today. “The water here is not hygienic at all,” said Eeric Frempong, while taking a break from swimming. “Sometimes you drink the water and people get diarrhea and typhoid fever and stuff.” Frempong has suffered from typhoid fever and other illnesses on several occasions after drinking the water.
But the lake is considered better than nearby streams, where others get their water. Most of the streams are murky, dirty water holes that cattle and other animals share with residents. These streams are the source of a lot of the illnesses that the people of Kordiabe, especially children, have had over the years.
Only 10 public water taps where residents can get water exist in Kordiabe. But that water also comes from the dam. In addition, sometimes the taps don't work. “Those who take care of the cattle, they purposely break the pipe so they can give water to the cattle,” Father Campbell said. “You see the kids having a bath in it and see the cattle coming and drinking from it. Large pools of muddy, dirty water. I used to be shocked when I saw that. I said how can they drink this water and share with the cattle? How?”
Bottled water and water sold in bags on the street are plentiful. But because there are few jobs in Kordiabe, according to Father Campbell, many residents live on less than a dollar a day and cannot afford to buy water. “A lot of poor families are out there, mainly the old women and men with children. The middle class is gone to the city looking for work, so it’s mainly the old people and the children who get left behind,” he said.
Back in the U.S. in Laurel, Maryland, Beverly Hunt recalled seeing first-hand the unsanitary water conditions in rural areas during several visits to Ghana. Hunt, co-founder of College Shine, a company that connects students in Africa with higher education institutions, took those trips with her business partner, Sylvia Baffour, a native Ghanaian, who lives in Washington. “I couldn’t help but notice that once we were out of the city in the rural areas, how people lived and particularly the bad situation with water,” Hunt said. “Sylvia and I were talking and we just wanted to do something. We came up with the idea of raising some money to get some water filters so families would have another option.”
“When she thought about the idea I wanted to run with it,” Baffour said. “I wondered why I had not thought of it myself, but sometimes it takes an outsider coming in and seeing things with a different set of eyes.”
Baffour and Hunt called on close friends and raised enough money to purchase 55 clay water filters at $20 each. Baffour says her family used one for years. “It can filter out some of these water-borne diseases. We used to have to boil our water, then cool it down, and then filter it with the regular types of filters,” Baffour said. “With this one you can take it straight from the tap. The only drawback is that it takes longer to filter because it's going through all of these layers of clay.”
Hunt and Baffour delivered the clay water filters to families that Father Campbell and Baffour's uncle identified in Kordiabe and to a nearby leper community. Baffour's mother showed the recipients how to clean and take care of the filters. That was four years ago.
Recipients of the clay water filters are still using them today. There’s Regina Tetteh and her eight children. She said through an interpreter, Eunice Nyamekye Jonathan, a reporter for e.TV Ghana, that the clay water filter she received from Hunt and Baffour changed her life.
“She said before they got the water filter, they got their water from the dam and her children had skin diseases and diarrhea too,” Jonathan said. “She says now they are OK.”
Tetteh’s neighbor, Belinda Opong, said her health has also improved since receiving a filter. “Myself, I get typhoid and they give me the water filter. Now I get the clean water,” Opong said. “It makes me happy and it's easy to use.”
With her three children sitting beside her at the clinic that Father Campbell had built in Kordiabe, Salomey Tetteh said her family collected water from a stream used by cattle before they got their water filter. They were sick a lot with various illnesses. Jonathan acted as her interpreter as well. “She said the entire family was healthy with the arrival of the water filter and were no longer falling sick and the kids were always in good shape,” she said.
But sadly, Salomey Tetteh’s children broke the water filter and they are getting their water from the public tap these days. “She says the taps are better than fetching from the stream, but because the filters are not available, they still fall sick, so they are not as healthy as when they had the water filter,” Jonathan translated for her.
In Laurel, Hunt and Baffour both remembered meeting Tetteh, as they sifted through recent pictures taken of her and her children. They were saddened that her water filter is broken. Hunt said they would be sure to have Father Campbell get a new filter to that family. “Yes, that would be nice,” Baffour agreed. “It was also nice to know what a tangible difference it (the water filter) made that she could observe."
Father Campbell said the water filters Hunt and Baffour delivered were a Godsend. “Because Kordiabe’s water problems are so serious, there’s always a need for these filters,” he said. “The 55 water filters is a drop of water, but yet the village is better off because of these drops of water. We wouldn't be able to estimate the good things that have happened because of that: the lives we saved, the health. It would be incalculable, all of the benefits.”
Hunt and Baffour said because of the scarcity of clean water in Ghana, they hope to raise additional funds to provide more clay water filters to other needy families. “It’s touching and makes me feel happy that in some small way, without over thinking it, that we’ve contributed to something so important,” Baffour said. “In the West, we take clean water for granted. I’ve never had to drink out of a river, so hopefully our efforts will start a trend to help those who do.”
Click here to read or listen to more stories in this series, Ghana at a Glance.