Hungry for Water

Joining forces for sustainable urban water access in Ghana
In Ghana, a big part of the urban population lives in congested, sub-standard structures. These people, known as the urban poor, often do not have a connection to the public water distribution system at their house. Because of their dependency on (multiple) commercial water vendors and the fact that small water quantities costs relatively more, they find themselves paying more for water compared to the wealthy who are connected to the public water distribution system. The lack of access to clean water also poses serious health risks, protection concerns, and undermines human dignity. We believe that everyone has the right to clean and safe water. That's why we're proud to tell you about the Ghana Urban WASH project.
This project is a unique partnership between the Ghana Red Cross (GRCS) and the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL). Together, we're working towards providing sustainable water connections to the urban poor. So, join us in this story about people who are hungry for water.


Amina's Struggle for Access to Clean Water

Meet Amina, one of the many people living in the urban poor areas of Asante Mampong near Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana . Amina is 38 years old, married, and has three children. Amina works at the market, her husband is an artisan, and they have no formal education. Amina's total household budget is less than 500 cedis per month, which is about 37 euros. Their house is located within an enclosed compound, with four other houses occupied by families.

Unfortunately, Amina's household is one of the many in the area that has no access to a water connection. She and her daughters are responsible for fetching water, often at kiosks or boreholes. They have to carry plastic sachets or heavy jerry cans back home. Amina's profile is what we call: Unconnected.

The Struggles of Sharing a Water Connection:

Florence's Story

Florence lives in Nzema, an urban poor community in Kumasi. She is 52 years old, married, and has four children. Her husband works in construction, and their total household budget is between 1000-2000 cedis per month. Like Amina, Florence also lives in a house within an enclosed compound with other families. However, there is one significant difference: they have access to a water connection in the compound. This means they own a water tap that provides water to all the families living there.

The five families share the water connection and the water meter. They split the water bill among themselves. Unfortunately, Florence is struggling to pay her share of the water bill of the last 3 months. Recently, the leader of the group collecting the monthly contributions has told Florence that she is not allowed to fetch water from the tap anymore. Her profile is what we call Connected. The group of Connected people includes different profiles. For example, Florence is at risk of becoming a Defaulter, someone who is not paying. She is also surrounded by Connected people who miss their payments, do not report leakages or use illegal connections. They show different behaviours and are far from being responsible water consumers, which is a key ingredient of sustainable urban water access.

The Challenges of
Accessing Clean Water

People like Amina, who do not have a water tap, face several challenges when it comes to accessing clean water. They are dependent on alternative water sources, like unprotected boreholes or commercial kiosks, which can pose health risks since the water might not be treated and stored in clean containers. Women and their daughters can also be at risk when fetching water, especially when having to do this early morning or late evening or during the dry season when water is scarce, and they have to walk long distances to find water.

People like Florence, who have a tap at their compound, are sometimes struggling to pay the monthly bill. Especially when people have recently obtained their water tap, they can be used to daily payments by buying by the bucket and do not have experience in saving money for their monthly water bill. Getting a water connection can pose even more of a challenge, with the connection sometimes costing up to three times a monthly income. In addition, people sometimes do not understand or trust the water tariffing system. Or they face challenges when multiple families live together on a compound and need to split the water bill.

“Water is very expensive in this community. A gallon of water is sold at GHS0.40, but we prefer they sell it to us at GHS0.20.” – Female Respondent, Kokode

A Unique Partnership for Water Access

As you can understand, the urban poor in Ghana are in dire need of household or compound water connections. The good news is that Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) takes their public mandate for universal access very serious and they actively engage to connect the unconnected. That’s why the Ghana Red Cross and the Ghana Water Company Limited put their hands together. This is a unique partnership, combining the technical knowledge of utilities and the power of community engagement from Red Cross.

GWCL is a progressive public utility and has the technical know-how and infrastructure to manage the water engineering network. It strives towards inclusive water service delivery and has a specific unit dedicated to include low income communities and the urban poor. However, it's capacity to mobilize the community and drive behaviour change has potential to grow. The Ghana Red Cross has in-depth expertise in community involvement and behaviour change, thanks to a large volunteer base that is locally rooted and embedded in the community and years of experience in applying behaviour change techniques. Jointly, the Ghana Red Cross and Ghana Water Company will develop and implement a voucher system, to cover the costs of a household connection fee for the most vulnerable. Netherlands Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) support this partnership financially and technically.
The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement believes that partnerships with public water and sanitation utilities are essential for effective water and sanitation programs in the urban environment.


Understanding Water Access in Ghana: Insights from Research

To better understand the needs of the community, the GWCL and Ghana Red Cross conducted deep research to determine the level of knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to water consumer behaviour among households. The research included for example the assessment of the community's perception towards the GWCL, their willingness and ability to pay for water, and understanding of the barriers people face to develop responsible behaviour. Surveys were conducted across 695 households for a period of one month.

“Water is a valuable and so to ensure that we can always have access to safe water, we need to pay for it.” – Yalewa Zongo Resident

Breaking Down Barriers to Water Access

An important part of the research was to understand what people like Florence and Amina think about household water connections. It turns out trust plays a huge part. The findings showed that 70% of respondents do not have a household water connection, but 50% of respondents would be interested in having one. However, many doubt that they can afford to pay the monthly bills. An even larger percentage of 65% confirmed they cannot pay the initial fee for the connection itself. And they often lack knowledge about the subsidy scheme for water connections. But not all is about financial barriers, people have strong perceptions about tap water being a commodity that is out of reach, something unattainable for their social group.

“A water connection is for rich people, it is not for me” – Female Respondent, Kokode

There is also mistrust among neighbors who share a water meter. Arguments arise when one family has visitors, and their water usage is not accounted for. And in one case, the person responsible for collecting money used the funds for something else. People also lack trust in the authorities and GWCL to provide reliable water services, and there are misconceptions on how water meter and billing work with rumors of meters overestimating usage.


Goal-Setting for Sustainable Water Access

The goal of the project is to support individuals like Amina and Florence in accessing water and becoming responsible water consumers to ensure sustainable long-term water access and well-functioning public water and sanitation utilities. The project is divided into two main parts: ensuring affordability through subsidies for the connection fee and addressing behaviour change to support responsible water use. In order to achieve success in the behaviour change part, it is crucial for Amina and her neighbors to trust the water provider and be willing to connect to the water supply. They also need to understand how to read the meter, manage their water consumption, and make timely payments to the GWCL. Moreover, Amina and Florence are encouraged to report any incidents such as leakages or water shortages, and provide consumer feedback, which will help to improve the overall service quality.

Understanding Motivations:

Hungry for Water

Before, we discussed the barriers to obtaining a water connection. However, it is equally important to understand the motivations behind people's desire for clean water. While it is commonly assumed that better health is the primary motivator, research has shown that factors such as pride and social status, convenience, and safety are much more significant. In Ghana, these motivations are further amplified by a sense of patriotism and the desire to build a stronger nation and a better future for their children. There is a strong sense of pride in seeing communities prosper, women and girls safely fetching water, and building trust among neighbors. As one of the respondents put it:

“We are hungry for water” – Female resident, Yalewa Zongo

From Motivation to Action:

Constructing Effective Messages

Based on the motivations and barriers identified, several message briefs for the residents in the area were created. These message briefs reflect the key motivation for change, include a cue for action, and refer to the benefit obtained through the new behaviour. Four statements were developed for the Unconnected group. One of the goals for example, was to encourage saving habits. The corresponding message focused on saving money (action) that could help individuals get capital for a water connection (benefit), which would lead to easy access to water (benefit) and earning social respect (motivation). For the Connected group, five statements were developed. One example is about having inclusive understanding and good relationships among households (benefit). The message focused on encouraging shared and transparent billing and meter reading (action) to improve accountability and trust and gaining social development and peace (motivation).

Taking Action:

A Behavioural Campaign and Hands-On Solutions

The solutions implemented in the project are twofold, comprising a behavioural campaign and the use of voucher system. The behavioural campaign is based on the carefully crafted messages and aims to influence decision-making and shape individual and community actions. The campaign employs various channels that are tailored to the communication habits of the target groups, such as radio shows, community meetings, household visits and drama to initiate conversations and engage people. Ultimately, it is all about people transforming their behaviour and taking new action.
The campaign includes subsidies for the initial water connection. The most vulnerable households receive a 100% subsidy from the Red Cross, while the rest of the community households receive a 70% subsidy from the GWCL. Different payment schemes, such as per day or consumption and cash payment options are available in GWCL, but those need promotion to be known and understood. Additionally, a reward system with a customer of the month activity has been established to promote good customer behaviour, such as reporting leakages and paying bills on time. To ensure customer satisfaction, the GWCL has established a customer feedback system. The Water User Association in the communities is assisting with this effort by helping to receive feedback and prompting GWCL to respond accordingly. Lastly, to gain customers' trust, GWCL officials need to be well-dressed, carry a valid ID, speak in understandable language, and maintain a familiar relationship with their customers.

Make a Difference in the Lives of the Urban Poor

We are about to start and make progress in providing water connections to Ghana's urban poor. Together GWCL and GRCS have united in a unique partnership making the best use of their strengths and expertise. So far since we started, we have collected information about barriers and motivations to access clean water, gaining valuable understanding of the context used to design solutions that put user behaviour at the center of the intervention. The use of the voucher systems and the design of the behavioural campaign as solutions show a lot of potential for increasing water access to poor urban dwellings. We hope to test this approach effectively and provide solid evidence on whether it works. We will provide more details about the results soon.

However, there are still countless people in Ghana and around the world who lack access to clean water. We must continue our efforts to scale up and expand our impact. As we move forward, we have to recognize the critical role that partnerships play in achieving our goals. Whether you work for the Red Cross, a water utility company, or in the WASH sector, we urge you to reach out to each other. By working together, we can make a real difference in the lives of those who are hungry for access to clean water.

A Responsibility that goes both Ways

We believe that universal urban access to safe and reliable water services is not possible without well-functioning, user-focused and financially healthy water and sanitation utilities. The utilities have a big responsibility in meeting the mandate of public water provision that is given to them. However, utilities also depend on their consumers in many ways. First of all, people need to trust the utility enough to be interested in a household connection. Secondly, water consumers need to pay their water bills. For this, they need to understand and trust the water tariff system, they should not use more water than they need and can pay. In those many cases where one connection is shared among all the families in one compound, water consumers need to organize themselves in a fair and effective way to ensure the water bill is paid. In addition, water consumers need to report leakages and file complaints when they think the service is not good. We call this responsible water use.

The People Influencing Amina and Florence

This pilot focusses on a combination of the use of vouchers, to subsidize costs for compound connections and the implementation of a behaviour change communication campaign to motivate responsible water use. Of course, Amina and Florence are not the only ones with an opinion about water connections. There are many people around them who can influence their decisions encouraging them to adopt new practices. These influencers include people close by, such as friends, family, and neighbors, whether they share a water connection or not. Landlords also often have a say in whether tenants can be given a connection. In the community, we see traditional or religious leaders who may even provide free water. Finally, there are people from official institutions, such as GWCL agents, members of the Water User Association in a neighborhood, and Red Cross volunteers, who can also influence opinions and decisions related to water access.
“The Imams allow us to fetch water for free. They don’t charge us when we go to the boreholes constructed by the Muslims.” – Resident, Parkoso

Water Scarcity during Dry Season

Droughts and the resulting water scarcity have a significant impact on the urban poor, with water pricing often being higher or water not being available at all. Many people are forced to travel long distances to fetch water, which can be dangerous. Amina and Florence are no exception. Despite high water pricing, the water quantity used is generally not affected. Instead, people store more water at home and water can only be used in moderation. During times of water scarcity, Amina recycles water, using the same water for different purposes. Florence does the same when water cuts in the household water tap become more common. Amina is forced to fetch water from unsafe open wells, and occasionally filters and boils the water when it looks dirty.
“I for instance, during the dry season when there is insufficient water, I use same water for many things. Maybe after I finish washing, I use the soapy water to clean the bathroom.” – Resident, Kokode
“We sometimes have to travel over long distances just to get water during the dry season.” – Resident, Parkoso

A Unit dedicated to Inclusion

The Low-Income Customer Support Department (LICSU) is dedicated to inclusion. It is truly a unique department within the GWCL and main counterpart for Ghana Red Cross in this partnership. They are committed to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the United Nations: sustainable water and sanitation for everyone with special emphasis in implementing policies and interventions that foster inclusion of the urban poor. Ghana Red Cross has teamed up with this department to Support poor and vulnerable households. In the video below, Faustina Boachie, the head of LICSU, explains the goals of the pilot. The video was taken in Asante Mampong, one of the two pilot areas.
“As a young girl, my sisters and I used to walk over two miles in search of water growing up in Obuasi in the late 1980s” – Faustina Boachie

Delving deeper into the Research

Both quantitative and qualitative research methods were used to gain a better understanding of the social aspects of people's motivations. Structured questionnaires were used for the quantitative research, which allowed for data collection and analysis. The qualitative research method, on the other hand, was used to provide detailed information and insight into the specific motivations and barriers to getting a water connection. As can be expected, not everything went smoothly. Some respondents were unwilling to grant an interview or were too busy to schedule a meeting. Some of them also chose to end the interview abruptly due to issues with the observation of storage containers and their place of convenience. Despite these challenges, a wealth of information was gathered, which proved to be crucial for better understanding of the context and the design of upcoming behaviour change interventions.

What do Amina and Florence think

Amina and Florence have their own opinions about water connections. Amina in the group of Unconnected finds it convenient to have a household water tap, but her husband and other male members in the compound have the final say. They don't consider the service reliable and don't trust the Ghana water agents. Additionally, they're unaware of any available subsidies to support the connection and lack the skills to navigate the administrative system to request one. They are also afraid they won't be able to handle monthly bills and prefer to pay the water bill with cash directly to vendors every time they buy a water container.

Florence, on the other hand, is proud of her water connection, as it pleases visitors with fresh water that takes less than five minutes to collect. However, she feels the bill is very expensive and doesn't accurately reflect their actual consumption. She thinks other households in the compound consume more water than her and still pay the same amount. She has never seen the bill and doesn't understand how the meter works. She has complained about irregularities during the dry season to the compound leader and assembly man, but she hasn't received any feedback.

Bringing it Together

So far, we have discussed the goals, barriers, motivations, and influencers related to water connections. Let's now illustrate these with a few examples, starting with the Unconnected group.
  • Goal: Encourage saving habits

  • Motivations: Pride and social status

  • Barriers: Not prioritizing the water bill

  • Key influencers: Family, Community Based Organizations, community associations

For the Connected an example could be as follows.

  • Goal: Inclusive understanding and good relation among households

  • Motivations: Building mutual trust, desire for accountability, feeling valued, desire of peace

  • Barriers: Fear of ejection, resistance from the landlord

  • Influencers: Religious leaders, landlord, husband, Red Cross volunteers

What’s in the Message

Let's take a look at the actual message briefs now. As we discussed earlier, one of the behavioural goals for the Unconnected group is to encourage saving habits. A message to support this could be:

"Saving money helps you get the capital needed for a water connection. Once you have easy access to potable water, you will earn respect."

For the connected group, one of the behavioural goals was to promote inclusive understanding and good relations among households. A message that could be used is:
"Improve your accountability by participating in shared billing and meter reading. This will help create a sense of community and ensure that everyone pays their fair share."

Words Speak Louder

Specific to Ghana are the CiCs, or Community Information Centers and the organization of community meeting called dabbas. CICs are equipped with powerful megaphones that make announcements to the community. The facility consists of a microphone and horned speakers, mounted on a small building in the center of transport hubs or markets, as well as display billboards for posters, banners, and murals. In the context of water connections, the CiCs can be utilized to invite people to community meetings or advertise the Red Cross radio shows. The dabbas are traditional meetings called by community or religious leaders and they are used typically to gather large amount of people to be informed about recent events or decisions.