Female waterpreneurs dispensing treated water to community members.


By Isaac Ofosu Debrah, National Coordinator, SDG Philanthropy Platform, UNDP Ghana


It would be an understatement to say that the SDGs call for innovation and new ways of doing things. The word “innovation” may sound simple, but its consistent reference in the SDGs era is an indication of the transformation that the global goals are expected to achieve. It is possible to miss key targets within the SDGs if innovative ideas, which are essential blocks for large scale transformation, are not funded.

Testing innovations enable the workability of new approaches and models to be tried, before up-scaling for maximum impact. Supporting small but scalable innovations through catalytic grants could deepen programme implementation towards problem solving. Yes, it is great to continue supporting proof-of-concept, but without grants, many concepts would remain unproven. In most cases, initial investments for concepts and risk-taking open doors for large scale financing.

It is against this backdrop that, the UNDP SDG Philanthropy Platform provided catalytic grants to three organizations to test ideas in the water sector in Ghana.  The country’s water sector continues to face challenges that include limited water access for communities as well as water quality issues.

For instance, UNICEF estimates that more than 5 million Ghanaians still lack access to safe water sources. Again, death among children linked to poor water and chronic malnutrition is estimated to be about 4,000 annually. This is crucial because water has interconnectivity with many SDGs, notably, SDG #3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG #4 (Quality Education) and SDG #5 (Gender Equality). So, failure to address the challenges in this important sector could have multiple implications on achieving other SDGs.

Moreover, the SDG #6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) emphasizes the need to have water services within households’ compounds, rather than having boreholes meters away from communities. This SDG is also particular about water quality, an enormous challenge despite Ghana’s success in meeting the MDG target on water access.

To complement the efforts of government and other actors in providing accessible clean water to the population, the SDG Philanthropy Platform awarded grants to Saha Global, TREND, and Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS) to test innovations in communities in the Central and Northern Regions of Ghana. Thanks to the support and the innovative ideas tested by these NGOs, the selected communities in these regions now have access to clean water for domestic use.

  1. Saha Global used basic materials (alum and chlorine tablets) to treat dirty water from dug-outs in “hard to reach” areas in six communities in Northern Ghana, with a combined population of more than 2000 inhabitants, creating women ‘waterpreneurs’  in the process, who now sell water for income.
  2. TREND piloted the concept of water safety planning (WSP) as a key strategy for improving water safety planning based on the guidelines developed by WHO. Through a participatory approach in two communities in the Central Region, TREND worked with the Community Water and Sanitation Agency, local government and community leaders.
  3. CONIWAS analyzed high yielding boreholes in rural areas to determine which ones have sufficient yields to be mechanized and piped to households in line with the SDG #6 requirement on extending pipe connections to households.

Interestingly, a comprehensive scalability assessment conducted on these three projects has confirmed the initial assumptions made at the project design stage. As a result, communities which are “hard to reach” and were depending on dirty water from dug-outs for both consumption and  domestic chores can now have access to safe water. Indeed, as one community member remarked: “the water we are now getting is preventing us from getting sick. We used to suffer a lot from water borne diseases. Both children and adults were always suffering from diarrhea.” This is a testimony of what difference catalytic grants could make.

A noteworthy headway has been made which would require expanding the projects to other communities. These solutions should be scaled to move beyond “incremental change to real transformation”, so as to leave no one behind. Ensuring coverage, impact and sustainability of these interventions could provide quality water access to hard-to-reach, very isolated and seemingly forgotten distant communities. However, this will require multifaceted partnerships with principal actors such as foundations, national and local government, social enterprises and NGOs to accelerate the up-scaling of these interventions.

The pathway for upscaling is clear as demand for access to quality water in these communities remain obvious. Replicability of the interventions will also be more efficient and less complex. Kudos to Saha Global, TREND and CONIWAs for making these innovations work.

Dug-out where water is scooped for treatment
Isaac Debrah (in yellow), Coordinator for SDG Phylanthropic Platform, Ghana and Amin Mohammed-Field Coordinator for Saha interacting with female waterpreneurs.
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