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Ghana's First Market & Feasibility Assessment Of Decentralized Water Systems

Safe Water Network has just completed the country’s first comprehensive survey of the role decentralized water systems serve in Ghana and it concluded that market-based approaches can play a significant role in bridging the gap in the population’s safe water access. 

This research was funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and the assessment built upon the knowledge Safe Water Network has developed during its four years of overseeing market-based initiatives in Ghana that provide safe water access to 35,000 people (Safe Water Network’s field program in India provides access to another 200,000+). The report also draws upon the Conrad N.Hilton Foundation’s long-term commitment and investment to water access in Ghana.  

More than 40% of Ghana’s 25 million people do not have safe water access despite an investment of roughly a half a billion US dollars over the past twenty years from the government and its development partners. Although noteworthy progress has been made, the majority of rural water systems fail prematurely. Current estimates indicate that 29% of all rural/peri urban hand pumps are broken and an additional 49% only partially function. The report determined that several factors contribute to this high failure rate including the lack of local service capability.  

The assessment identified key barriers and promising solutions to providing sustainable water service using a market-based approach targeting the poor in rural and peri-urban areas in Ghana. The assessment categorized the key obstacles to providing safe water into six groups and each section addressed both the challenges and potential solutions. The categories included: (1) consumer (2) technology (3) local capacity (4) policy environment (5) economics and (6) financing.  

Key Findings 
The report concluded that market-based solutions have the potential to address a significant portion of the gap in Ghana’s safe water access. Low cost innovative technologies and approaches, such as Limited Mechanization Systems (LMS) and Modular Slow Sand Filtration (MSSF), are promising options, but only in conjunction with a community commitment to local ownership and management. The key to sustainability is providing a community with the training and support required to stand on their own. Regardless of what technology is used, systems must be simple and cost-effective to operate and maintain. It must also perform in adverse conditions.  

Systems that generate sufficient revenue to recoup capital are more likely in communities of 5,000 or more. However, hybrid solutions where capital, and when necessary, a degree of operating costs are subsidized, can provide a long-term solution for the poor, especially in areas of less than a thousand people.  

Solar power is another means to reducing operating costs and providing access to communities without a reliable source of electricity. Although there are upfront costs, the price of solar panels continues to drop, making the payback comparison to diesel generators more favorable every year. Inexpensive power also creates additional revenue streams from adjunct businesses like cell phone charging.  

Another important aspect to success over the long term is routine servicing and maintenance, as well as access to parts, supplies, and the expertise required for the unexpected operational problem. There may be potential for a ‘service entity’ to cost-effectively meet the needs of [50 +] systems through clustering to leverage scale efficiencies.  

Next Steps 
The Ghana Market Assessment and Feasibility Study has already provided important analysis that helped shape Safe Water Network’s planning in Ghana for the next 18 months. The preliminary findings were also shared with many of Ghana’s key stakeholders in an interim workshop held last year.  

Much of what was learned from the study confirms Safe Water Network’s commitment to developing local capability to own and manage systems. The technical assessment, however, provided new insights on LMS, Ultra-filtration and the use of solar power, and this opens up possibilities to service other regions in Ghana not currently addressed in Safe Water Network’s three-year strategic plan.  

Safe Water Network presented the finalized findings from this report at our Beyond the Pipe Forum held in Accra in March. Many of the sector’s key stakeholders were in attendance. Safe Water Network is grateful for the support and insights provided by The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.