The Ghana Youth Environmental Movement, a youth-led environmental policy advocacy and campaign group, adopted a layered democratic process of deliberation with the leadership and residents of Treba, a low-income rural community in Ghana to solve the water insecurity plaguing them
Problems and Purpose
GYEM, in conjunction with the leadership of the Treba Youth Association, started the “Kyensu” water project, a community sharing water project to serve as a step in resolving the community's water insecurity. Torgbui Joseph Kaka, the chief of Treba highlighted that the rainfall water reserves were insufficient, water from the pond was unsanitary thus leading to the outbreak of diseases (predominantly Buruli ulcer) and other options such as buying sachet water for consumption were too expensive (GYEM TV Environment Channel, n.d.). Considering that potable water is such a pressing problem in their community, the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement also involved the leadership of the Treba community and 7 elected representatives from the youth association to ensure adequate sharing of the water. The word “Kyensu” is a word derived from the Fante Language in Ghana which means to “share water”.
Background History and Context
Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Ghanaians are said to have had access to potable water before the year 2015, implying that the Millennium Development Goal 7 had been met ahead of schedule (Monney & Antwi-Agyei, 2018). Nevertheless, considering that the world has now shifted towards Sustainable Development Goals with SDG 6 aiming to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, the fact remains that Ghana faces high levels of water insecurity (UNDP, n.d.). The challenge that comes with the statistic provided by the MDGs is that it considers water coverage, that is, the availability of water at a particular place and time. According to experts, water coverage is not necessarily a good measure of water security. (Dosu et al., 2021). This is because water security issues include traveling long distances to obtain water, broken water facilities, and the cost of access to water. With all these factors under consideration, a closer look at Ghana’s water situation reflects a high level of water insecurity in many of Ghana’s rural low-income communities. The country records about 6 million of its citizens not having access to potable water (Asante-Wusu, 2020).
Scholars have argued that one of the best ways to deal with Ghana’s water insecurity is to rely on local solutions that deal with local challenges such as water impurity, erratic flow, high cost, and poor water quality (salinity and hardness) which are often overlooked. Research on water issues in the Greater Accra Region indicates how the local geography affects water security, presenting one of the four aforementioned issues (Asante-Wusu, 2020). As such, dealing with water insecurity requires thorough research into respective communities to understand specific problems and provide equally specific solutions to them.
Treba, a low-income community found in the Kuntunse electoral area of the Amasaman constituency in the Ga West Municipality of the Greater Accra Region, is one of such communities with water insecurity. Their two main water sources are rain and pond in the neighborhood which they share with the livestock of the community. Considering that the government had made very little to no effort in helping them solve their water problems, the Chief of the community Torgbui Joseph Kaka had consulted with the town council to identify ways through which they could resolve this water crisis and provide clean drinking water to the community (GYEM TV Environment Channel, n.d.). Their first resort was to purchase sachet water and employ the use of mesh for filtration however, the cost of sachet water as well as the level of pollution of their water bodies rendered both solutions unfeasible.
The Ghana Youth Environment (GYEM), a youth-led environmental policy advocacy and non-violent campaign group in Ghana sought, in their own small way, to contribute to water security in rural communities in Ghana. Considering the preponderance of data on water issues in Ghana, it was relatively easy for them to identify Treba as a community in need of reliable access to potable water. Employing several methods of deliberation and participation at various levels of the Treba community, they concluded by providing a water-sharing kiosk. This would be managed by an autonomous 7-member board comprised of members of the Treba community.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Many of GYEM’s projects involve partnerships with developmental agencies and other environmentally-focused organizations. The “Kyensu” project, being no exception to this, was supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, L’Agence de l’eau Artois-Picardie, and well as the International Secretariat for Water (ISW) (keendevs, n.d.).
The Kyensu project was among the 9 out of over 294 globally selected projects under ISW’s “Global Youth Take Action” project in the year 2020. ISW’s call for projects was “designed to identify, encourage and support youth engagement in water management in the context of the current pandemic” (Vaillancourt, 2020).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
A 7-member autonomous water planning and management group comprising of members of the Treba Youth Association was elected by the association to ensure the smooth day-to-day running of the project (GYEM TV Environment Channel, n.d.).
Methods and Tools Used
The six-step process involved deliberative democracy at all levels, through open forums with the members and leadership of the community
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Considering that the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement is an external party that sought to start a community water-sharing project in Treba, there was the need to allocate enough time and resources to useful engagement strategies. This would help the movement to properly identify their needs as well as establish trust amongst the leadership and members of the community.
Upon identifying Treba for this Kyensu project, GYEM embarked on several community engagement exercises at various levels to ensure both the feasibility and success of the project. The process was divided into 6 steps.
The first step included informing and obtaining approval from the government representative i.e., assemblywoman for the project.
The second level of deliberation involved engagement with both the assemblywoman and traditional head of the community (chief) in the person of Torgbui Joseph Kaka for further deliberation on the project.
To maintain further information on the needs of the community, GYEM interviewed members of the community- especially women and children considered to be more disproportionately affected by water insecurity in African countries as they tend to be responsible for walking long distances to fetch water for the household as well as other household activities and chores that involve the use of water (UNDP, n.d.).
Step 4 entailed the running of a needs assessment for further consideration on the type of water infrastructure that they were choosing to build. Subsequently, there was a community durbar for all residents of the community. Here, residents of Treba met with GYEM for a Greek-style deliberation on the water crisis in their community, ways in which they believed it could be addressed, and how they felt GYEM could support this resolution.
Bearing in mind that GYEM has a strong affinity for youth-focused projects as stated in their mission statement, a partnership was formed with the Treba Youth Association to ensure the peaceful running and survival of the project after it had been established. They oversaw the election of a 7-member committee from this association, comprising of 4 women and 3 men, to check the day-to-day usage and management of the water in the kiosk. The aim of this project was also to meet SDG 6- Clean Water and Sanitation.
GYEM went on to meet with the owner of the plot of land on which they would build the kiosk, as well as masons, plumbers, and other artisans who would be contracted to build this project. All labor was primarily sourced from within the Treba community.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Torgbui Joseph Kaka as well as several members of the community have given feedback on the benefits of this water-sharing project on their community since its inception. Food vendors and women who cook in individual households in Treba have attested to the fact that the water from the “Kyensu” water kiosk is cheaper and much cleaner, thus saving them the hassle of having to walk long distances, rely on rain, or buy expensive sachet water for cooking. The chief has also recorded fewer cases of Buruli ulcers in the community and has pointed out that the kiosk has lifted a major financial burden off the shoulders of Treba residents (GYEM TV Environment Channel, n.d.).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
GYEM’s layered process of community engagement to examine the needs of the people of the Treba community helped in the proper contextualization of the solution provided. This sort of engagement at various levels of the community increases democracy in a way that several voices can be heard. It in many ways eliminates the possibility of corruption on the part of the leadership and ensures that the membership of the community is satisfied. It also ensures that a local solution is provided for a local problem, in that it is catered to serve the needs of the community in question.
The election of local representatives - an autonomous 7-member committee from within the community to manage the water kiosk, also guarantees that the administration of this project is left in the hands of people who are trusted by the community and understand their issues. This way, GYEM is not perceived as an external party that seeks to usurp or control water management in the community.
Asante-Wusu, I. (2020). Why local solutions are best for urban water supply in Ghana. The Conversation. Retrieved August 9, 2021, from http://theconversation.com/why-local-solutions-are-best-for-urban-water-supply-in-ghana-133236
Dosu, B., Ofori Dei, S. M., Abubakari, M., & Appiah, G. (2021). The implications of social and economic barriers to safe drinking water for municipal-level policy in Ghana. Water International, 46(3), 383–396. https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2021.1888037
GYEM TV Environment Channel. (n.d.). Kyɛnsu (Share water). Retrieved August 9, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o_16Qfegbc
keendevs. (n.d.). Kyensu. GYEM Ghana. Retrieved August 9, 2021, from https://gyemgh.org/projects/kyensu.html
Monney, I., & Antwi-Agyei, P. (2018). Beyond the MDG water target to universal water coverage in Ghana: The key transformative shifts required. Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development, 8(2), 127–141. https://doi.org/10.2166/washdev.2018.176
UNDP. (n.d.). World’s most marginalized still left behind by global development priorities: UNDP report | Human Development Reports. Retrieved August 9, 2021, from http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/world%E2%80%99s-most-marginalized-still-left-behind-global-development-priorities-undp-report
Vaillancourt, É. (2020, July 31). Global Youth Take Action: 9 selected projects. Youth for Water