According to a 2012 report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, Ghana has made great strides in providing its people with clean drinking water. But access to better sanitation has lagged.
Only about 14 percent of Ghanaians have access to improved facilities, compared with the 54 percent target set for 2015 by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Addressing the issue isn't simple, as pit latrines need emptying, toilets need maintenance, and promoting hygiene requires education.
The H2O Collaboration, a partnership between Rotary and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is working to alleviate the problem. Between 2009 and 2013, the collaboration invested $2 million in water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives in Ghana, along with equal amounts in the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.
In Ghana, the effort resulted in 57 boreholes, 20 wells, latrines for 41 public schools, three public toilet and shower-block units, and three mechanized water supply and distribution systems for rural communities.
In each community, Rotary members and USAID partnered with Ghana's Community Water and Sanitation Agency to set up local water and sanitation committees that assume ongoing oversight of the improvements. They have also worked with the country's Ministry of Education and its local affiliates to promote a health curriculum that teaches the importance of hand washing with soap, safe water storage, and use of improved household latrines.
The collaboration is poised to enter its second phase this year with commitments of $4 million each in Ghana, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Uganda.
Rotary and USAID both bring unique strengths to the effort. Rotary's global network of members raise money and oversee construction of the improvements. USAID provides the technical support to design and carry out the initiatives, and works to build the capacity of local, district, and regional agencies to operate and maintain the systems and oversee education and training.
"Working with USAID has been great because they have been in the development business for years and have the backing of the U.S. government," says Ako Odotie, a member of the Rotary Club of Tema, Accra, who serves on a committee overseeing the effort in Ghana. "In Rotary, we are volunteers and many individual clubs. USAID is one unit, and that provides strength to our effort."
One of the first steps for Rotary was the creation of a host organization committee made up of Rotary leaders who could steer the project. The committee members sat down with representatives from USAID and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency to determine where the need was greatest; they selected the Volta, Eastern, Central, and Greater Accra regions. Sites were then chosen, and Rotary's share of projects in 114 communities was divided up among 16 clubs.
The clubs met with each community to get their input before seeking bids for projects. Local water and sanitation committees participate in decision-making, donate land for the improvements, set up bank accounts, establish and collect user fees to cover ongoing costs, and receive training in the use and maintenance of the facilities. Health and sanitation teams from local government units and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency regularly inspect and monitor the sites and evaluate reports from the communities.
"Some of the water and sanitation committees have done so well with the fees they get from users that they have expanded things," says Odotie. "In one community where we dug a borehole, they got additional funding from a church camp and installed pump-to-pump water into a tank and built themselves a complete water system."
"Sustainability is built right into the project," notes Robert Holden, who served as international project sponsor for District 7630 (Delaware and Maryland, USA). "When we entered a village, they had to show us their bankbook and deposits, which were enough to keep the projects running. I was very impressed with how much prior planning went into this project, its detail, ingenuity, and foresight."
Odotie says it has been rewarding to see the reaction of villagers to all the improvements.
"Sometimes it is very emotional to see the joy and appreciation on their faces," he says. "When you bring in water -- clean water versus what they are used to drinking, which is very pitiful -- you can tell straightaway that their health situation is improved. This is what I live for. It is what makes Rotary what it is."