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In April 2002 the Center for Economic and Social Rights took part in the International Fact-Finding Mission on Water Sector Reform in Ghana. The resulting report found that treated water was available to 62-70 percent in urban areas and 35-40 percent in rural areas. In urban areas, however, only 40 percent of people have working tap water. Seventy-eight percent of the poor in urban areas do not have piped water.

The lack of access to clean water and to sanitation systems are central public health concerns, globally and in Ghana. The human right to water is considered by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights. Although not specifically recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee provides guidelines on the interpretation of this right in the context of adequate standards of living, housing, food and right to health. The availability of sanitation systems is also one of the factors the Committee has monitored to evaluate whether or not the right to adequate housing is being fulfilled.

CESR's report found that inadequate water and sanitation contributes to 70 percent of diseases in Ghana. The incidence of some water-borne diseases, including cholera, has increased. Unless improved water is provided to more people, water-borne diseases are likely to remain prevalent throughout the entire population. This crisis in access to clean and affordable water has propelled the Government of Ghana toward possible privatization of water services. There has been opposition among some groups in civil society, but many in the government felt strongly that privatization or Private Sector Participation (PSP) would improve the situation in the water sector in Ghana.

The fact-finding mission met with a broad cross-section of stakeholders and parties involved in the debate on water privatization, including both national and international bodies, such as the IMF, the World Bank and DFID. The delegation also visited several low-income communities in Accra to talk to residents about their daily difficulties in gaining access to clean and affordable water.

The main conclusion of this report was that the PSP proposal, as it stood, was unlikely to improve access to clean and affordable water and sanitation services and was not an optimal option for ensuring expanded access to clean and affordable water for the people of Ghana. In addition, the international fact-finding mission recommended that the government of Ghana continue to open dialogue and consultation with a broad representation of stakeholders regarding alternative approaches to expanding access to clean and affordable water.

Some of the key shortcomings of the PSP proposal found by the mission were:

  • Investment priorities and lack of capital are likely to privilege wealthier communities and make significant expansion to unserved areas unlikely;
  • The separation of water and sanitation services reduces opportunities to address public health problems;
  • There are no performance targets related to poverty or public health indicators;
  • The vast majority of citizens and civil society organizations, who would be directly affected by the PSP proposal, were unaware of its basic components and were not involved in the decision-making process.
This report has contributed to a better understanding of the basic right to water in Ghana, highlighting the need of a more consultative and inclusive process when defining which system would best respect and fulfillment of this right.

Recently, the Ghanaian government has claimed that the water system has not been privatized, despite contracts with Dutch and South African companies for some management services.