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Water and electricity shortages belie growth in Africa

In Africa, progress does not guarantee access to the most basic necessities.

In Africa, progress does not guarantee access to the most basic necessities.

This is amply demonstrated by Ghana, whose economic growth is the envy of its neighbours even while the government is failing to ensure a sufficient supply of water.

This failure comes at an economic and human cost, as expensive water from private suppliers is reducing company profit margins and poses a health risk to those dependent on it.

Ghana's GDP growth is predicted to outpace the regional average for a sixth consecutive year this year and significant oil production is adding to the nation's wealth in natural resources that centres on gold mining and agricultural exports. Yet at present, 37 per cent of the population cannot rely on the government for their water, according to figures by the Accra-based Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation.

"Supply cannot meet the increasing demand," says Kweku Botwe, the managing director of the state-owned Ghana Water. "Investment had stagnated so much over the past 40 to 50 years that you're no more dealing with the urgent situation, but with the emergency."

The money flow has been insufficient in spite of statistics by the World Bank and the UN showing the economic benefits of investment into water in sub-Saharan Africa are higher than any other infrastructure.

But instead of receiving water from the state utility's pipes, factories are forced to purchase it by the lorryload, at a much higher price, from private companies. Likewise, families rely on water from the market or from local wells.

Women and children are forced to spend hours each day making their way to wells and waiting for their turn at the pump.

The alternative sources are not guaranteed safe - 31 people died of cholera in Accra last year after drinking privately supplied water.

The situation is not helped by a shortage of electricity that resulted in the disruption of a gas pipeline from Nigeria last August. Although the president John Mahama has pledged improvements are imminent, Ghana's gas-fired power plants are still dormant for much of the time, leaving the country's water treatment plants underused.

The government is not blind to the need for investment and has turned to investors from overseas.

The Belgian company Deny's is building a water treatment plant at a cost of more than US$400 million (Dh1.46 billion) and the Spanish-Ghanaian outfit Befesa Agua is investing more than $100m in a desalination plant.

Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, or Taqa, is also looking at the water sector with interest, having just begun work on an upgrade of a power plant in the town of Takoradi.



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