The warm morning sun rises early to a new day in Ghana, to the sound of familiar chatter around your dwelling. The women of one rural village are preparing to fetch water for drinking and bathing, as they do every day, so you join them. You are greeted with “Ɛte sɛn?” or “how are you?” which is a common greeting in Twi, to which you respond “Ɛyɛ” or “I’m fine.” On your walk to the water source, which is little more than a pond, you notice that some of the children are full of life and energy, but others seem sluggish and tired. You want to ask them, “Ɛte sɛn?” but part of you doesn’t want to know the answer.
For Ghana’s rural population, life is not easy. Things we take for granted in the Western world, like water and electricity, are hard to come by. In a prosperous Southern village of Ghana, there may be several local teachers in a concrete school building. But in rural areas, especially Northern Ghana, there may be only one or two teachers in a structure made of mud and thatch roofing. In these areas, children usually only complete primary school because secondary school is too far away from their village. These children will instead join their families to fetch water, complete chores, and help with the farm. Many Ghanaians tend to fields or livestock for their livelihood. While agriculture employs over half of Ghana’s population, particularly in these rural areas, the farmers’ irrigation needs can upset the town’s already insufficient water supply. As a result, many farmers become displaced during seasons of flood and drought.
Migration to Cities
Urbanization is a complex trend occurring across the African continent. In Ghana, many people began moving towards cities in the 1990s during the presidency of Jerry Rawlings. Since then, Ghana’s government has successfully increased access to public education, healthcare, and WASH services in urban areas. According to the Radiant Ghana Guide, 93% of Ghana’s urban population now has access to clean drinking water. The massive growth of Ghana’s urban population has also come with a boost to the economy, mainly due to the development of Ghana’s oil industry (International Monetary Fund). But many people still living in rural Ghana have not felt the benefits of governmental stability. Ghana’s success is slow-reaching for the rural population, where only 35% of people have access to clean drinking water.
Noticing these desperate rural communities of Ghana, Chinese nationals have begun ‘moving in’ to operate illegal mines. Locals in need of cash will “galamsey”, or “gather them and sell” to the Chinese, who smuggle the precious minerals out of the country. This is exceedingly dangerous work. Many men either die in homemade mine-shafts or from exposure to toxic chemicals used during extraction. The heavy metals brought out by extraction during these small-scale mining operations have a large impact: they contaminate waterways, sometimes for entire communities (NASA). Because of the serious environmental impact of galamsey, Ghana’s government has taken a strict stand against this illegal mining. After deploying 200 soldiers to lakes and rivers in Central and Western Ghana, President Akufo-Addo said,
“Mining becomes a danger to the society when, after extracting the gold, diamond, or other stones and minerals, the land is left degraded and poisoned with toxic materials.” (Reuters)
The success of Ghana’s government in standing up to these external forces again proves their strength and resilience. Still, the current situation is far from solved for the men, women, and children living in rural areas. These mines are hard to locate since they are on such a small scale. They are also hidden away in dense forests and sometimes only contain a few men per site. Often illegal mines are also scattered near legal mining operations. This makes the distinction between legal and illegal mining hard to spot.
Oftentimes, we want to make a difference by setting goals for ourselves. Perhaps we promise to take shorter showers or turn off the tap. Unfortunately, being fully sustainable and waste free is unfeasible. The good news is that small changes make a big difference. If more people subtly changed their routines, it would make more of an impact than anything else.
Rural Ghana has a need you can help us fulfill. Interested in helping Ghanaians access clean water? You can make an impact on their lives today: we have several ways to help. If you want to receive more stories like this or have a question, fill out our connection form here. Go to our giving page if you’d like to become a water sponsor, are interested in championing a project, or simply give.