Water, revisted

17 11 2008

When I first moved into my house here in Tamale I was plagued by water problems, or rather lack of water problems. Tamale is famous in Ghana for having an unreliable water supply for a variety of reasons. It largely comes down to poor infrastructure. Tamale is slightly higher than the surrounding countryside and needs the water in nearby reservoirs to be pumped, which in turn needs reliable pumps and pipes. Unfortunately we don’t have that. Most towns in Ghana have bore holes and wells to substitute when the municipal supply fails, for some reason Tamale doesn’t have those either (I believe for technical reasons). This means people have to travel to buy water. Very few have cars so you see people pushing carts full of large cans of water or balancing 20 or 30 litre containers on their heads.

For the first three or so months I was sleeping with half an ear open listening for the trickle of water into a toilet cistern. Basically the water to the house was turned on perhaps once or twice a week and usually those occasions were between 1am and 5am. When I was woken by the gentle trickle of water I’d leap to action, filling whatever containers I could (as well as my water filter) to make sure I had enough to cook, clean and flush.

PolytankAnd then, joy of joys, my landlord installed a polytank. This is a large black plastic cylinder that sits on a platform and has a pipe going into from the mains and another into my house. It automatically gets filled when water flows with enough pressure to reach it, in theory providing me with a constant water supply. In practice the water was cut off for 4 weeks after it arrived. Fortunately this was over Christmas and I was away for most of that time. Since mid January though, I’ve had a reasonable supply of water with only the occasional return to buckets.

Harvesting rainThis allowed me to slip into complacency, and I wasn’t accounting for the British water company Biwater utterly messing things up. In August 2006 Biwater started a 2 year project to fix Tamale’s water system. They finished in August this year and since mid September, in a major leap backwards, most of Tamale has been without flowing water. My polytank holds more than 2 weeks worth of water and it emptied around the middle of October, we survived on stored water and water we gathered from the last rain storms of the year for a just over a week until we were starting to get worried. Then Fred mentioned our plight to the local barman one evening who appeared the next morning with a tractor pulling a bowser full of water. Thirty minutes and GhC 25 later we’d filled my polytank as well as Fred’s spare in the garden. Ironically there had been a small amount of low pressure water that night so I’d spent an hour in the middle of the night filling buckets but it was still appreciated. Two and a bit weeks later the first (raised) tank has emptied so no more water out of showers or taps, but we still have easily enough water for the next week (my last in Tamale until the new year). There’s no word though as to when my fellow Brits will at least bring us back to the level of service we were getting before September.




3 responses

2 12 2008
Tim Little

Apparently President Kuffor did attend the official opening this weekend. I don’t know whether the sistuation has improved.

28 01 2009
Joe Dalton

I’ve just returned to Tamale to work on this project for another year to optimise the water supply. There were many challenges faced but I think its fair to say there has been a big improvement in the Tamale water supply. Drop me a line any time to talk more about it.

29 01 2009
Tim Little

Since I got back to Tamale a few weeks ago the water situation does seem to be a lot better.

I wrote this after the water situation had got considerably worse after the end of August and various rumours were circulating but no real information seemed available. The crisis seemed to affect most of Tamale and was after the promised end date for the works. It was an expression of the frustration.

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