Pumping water, building peace: How clean water is helping to bring relief to Northern Ghana

Until the project intervention, women and children struggled to have access to clean drinking water (Photo credit: UNDP in Ghana)

Fatimata Seidu, a 12-year-old girl from Changli in Northern Ghana, used to spend long hours fetching water. An age-old practice of burying the dead inside houses in her community meant that several boreholes were contaminated with toxins, and whatever few other water sources available were hotly disputed.

Life is now getting better in Changli after a UN-supported initiative, the Human Security Programme (HSP), commissioned mechanized boreholes for pumping clean water. Financed by the Japanese government, the programme integrates the expertise of six UN agencies - UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, UNIDO, UNU and WFP - in addressing underlying threats to human security through empowering local institutions, communities and individuals.  

UNDP had a lead coordination role, ensuring that the 4-year, US$3 million project was implemented until completion. Before the intervention, there was only one manually operated borehole with one fetching point serving about 10,500 inhabitants of Changli, an urban settlement in the heart of Tamale, the Northern Regional capital.

This water source could only serve about 250 persons in a day, forcing the rest (including children) to trek long distances (average of 3 km) at the expense of their education in search of water. The situation also created long, winding queues that were often sources of conflicts as a result of frequent stampede.

“I used to see a lot of confusion whenever I went to fetch water. The boreholes here are few and the people are many, so it was always difficult for us [children] to break through,” says Fatimata. “We were always getting to school late and there was no peace at the pipe stands,” she adds.

The mechanized borehole commissioned by UNDP pumps water into reservoirs, which distribute the water to four fetching points, now serving about 1,500 people in a day.


  • Over 23 conflicts took place in the poorer, northern regions of Ghana in the past two decades
  • The HSP Programme seeks to empower local institutions, communities and individuals to manage and prevent conflict
  • According to a mid-project assessment, 85.5% of respondents were of the view that the level of tension had reduced in their communities between 2009 and 2011.

Women and children, who largely bear the task of fetching water in this community, are the greatest beneficiaries of the intervention. “This new pipe means we have clean water and we will have peace because we won’t fight over water again,” says Fatimata.

Although Ghana is seen as an oasis of stability in the West African sub-region, the country faces human security challenges, especially in the northern region where over 23 conflicts occurred in the last two decades.

In Changli, continuous fostering of dialogue and communal living has largely contributed to redirect energies into peacebuilding. According to a mid-project assessment, 85.5% of respondents were of the view that the level of tension had reduced in their communities between 2009 and 2011.

“We have to work hard to sustain the peace that we are enjoying now. We have clean water and our people can now channel the long hours they spend looking for water into other productive ventures,” says Chang-Naa Azima Mahama, the community chief.

But more work remains to be done and it is imperative that local governments put in place measures to ensure that those gains are sustainable. “Our District Assembly must also support other needs of the community such as job creation. If there are jobs, nobody will have time for petty fights and quarrels,” says Chang-Naa.

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