Moving Towards a Shared Vision of the Future

Ghana’s Pra River winds its way southward from the Kwahu Plateau to the Gulf of Guinea through cocoa farming plantations and forests prized for their timber. Despite receiving quite a lot of rainfall each year, the Basin will face water stress in the coming years.  Together with our partner in Ghana, the Nature Conservation Research Centre, the Water Initiative is working to build an institutional movement towards IWS.

In the Ghanaian context, the key to success is investing in the process of building institutional support. “We are very much invested in a process as opposed to an outcome,” said Rebecca Asare. “That’s critical because we feel strongly that to work with all the stakeholders in a sustainable way, we need to approach it differently than the classic model of the international NGO coming in with the plan already in place. We’re very much invested in the process that builds a sense of collective progress and work, so that hopefully there’s a higher chance that the work will go forward and be integrated into national institutions, even if the project funding dries up.”

In building the case for IWS in the Pra and Kakum Basins, the working group is following a five step process. The draft of the third step – articulating the desired state – has just been completed.

Desired State

“When we first started this, our first question was if we could even do this in Ghana. It clearly came out that there was lots of opportunity here,” said Rebecca. “We looked at who we felt were the key management stakeholders for the basins, and that became our original core group of about five or six institutions and they have worked with us as we’ve tried to articulate the desired state.”  The first step to this process was completing an assessment of the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario.

Business as UsualMining

The Pra and Kakum River Basins face many problems, but the key problems in the region are the declining water quality and the presence or threat of illegal gold mining. Some disagreement also exists over the amount of available water in the basin. While one study reported that available water was about 2,300 m3/person/yr, the actual availability is less than 1,680 m3/person/yr, below the water stress index set by the UN. Looking into the future, water pollution challenges will be driven primarily by population and industrial growth.


One of most important results of the BAU development was identifying the gaps in knowledge. “There were still questions that we couldn’t answer with the stakeholders and information that we had, so we had to revisit that [in the desired state report] and broaden to include some new institutions like the Water Research Institute and the Ghana Meteorological Agency,” said Rebecca.  The gaps identified in the first round of BAU assessment include:

  • Sources of lead and other heavy metal contaminants

  • Costs associated with water treatment

  • Total demand and needs of upstream users for water

  • Realistic projections of population growth and increased water demand in metropolitan areas

Vision for the Watersheds

In ten years, under a Payment for Water Services (PWS) mechanism, the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Area (STMA) and/or the Cape Coast-Elmina Metropolitan Area (CCEMA) could expect to furnish domestic and industrial water users with clean water, an increased and steady flow, and, in collaboration with WRC and other partners, healthy and productive watersheds that support long-term water demand, rural enterprises, and livelihood choices.

Desired State: How To Get There

Developing a statement of the desired state for the basins was a two-step process. The project working group (made up of representatives from key institutions) brought in the authors to put together a draft of the desired state for comment.  According to Rebecca, “That’s the best way to work on it here. No one has the time. To give people a draft to look at and then respond to is more successful. After the draft was done, the working group started adding more detail – it’s more of a living document.”  Within the report, the Working Group has identified four strategic goals to improve water quality, flow and quantity goals:

  1. To ensure a healthy and functional ecosystem with adequate green infrastructure to facilitate effective groundwater recharge, filtration of pollutants and sediments, and enhance the resilience of the watershed to climate change impact.

  2. To ensure that the basin yields adequate raw water in a form that can be utilized by the respective users.

  3. To ensure a sustainable financial mechanism that supports cost-effective clean water production and improved livelihoods.

  4. To strengthen human and institutional capacity to carry out IWRM in the watersheds.

These goals, and the specific objectives within them, are the start to laying out the critical path for IWS in the region.  The process of laying out the critical path has identified a number of additional gaps that need to be addressed before the implementation phase can begin. “In the pathway that we are starting to imagine, we have to ask ourselves, what are the obstacles and roadblocks and how can we identify them. As we do this together, the Working Group will have a more realistic sense of what we can achieve and what we want to achieve,” explained Rebecca. The next meeting of the Working Group will start to work on this step.

One of the identified gaps is the lack of a central coordinating mechanism to help the different actors in the watershed work together in an

Institutional Landscape of the Desired State

Institutional Landscape of the Desired State

effective and coordinated manner. That includes the multiple institutions involved in water management throughout the basin and the districts, municipalities, and regional governments.  A second gap, demonstrated in the BAU work, is the lack of sufficient monitoring and high quality data.  Although the institutions have formal monitoring strategies in place, examining ways in which other low-cost monitoring methods could be implemented to fill in the data gaps is important. The third piece of the puzzle is then the actual design of the IWS fund.  The fund could utilize existing payment structures such as the Water Resources Commission’s Water Management Account, which already collects some abstraction fees from water users to use for investment projects. However, for the fund to be successful, it may require some autonomy, and transparency and accountability will have to be paramount. “The fund currently operates to support various goals,” said Phil Covell, “so it’s difficult for payers to understand how the fees that are paying related to watershed conservation”.for this fund to be successful, transparency and accountability standards need to be put into place. Hopefully, one of the benefits of the program will be that it will make the connection between upstream investments and the downstream benefits more clear.”

Identifying Projects

In addition to building capacity on the institutional level, transparency within water management funds, and increasing coordination between entities concerned with water, pilot projects that will offer the best potential for scaling up need to be identified.  But in these vast river basins, identifying the effect of individual interventions can be challenging, as can deciding on where to start. Another outcome of the report was the clear need to find some way to prioritize potential projects and interventions, since not everything can be tackled at once.  The consultants who authored the paper suggest a number of ways to prioritize based on identified threats, ability to work within the basin, or basins containing the water treatments plants with the most pressing issues.

What’s Next?

In Phase 2, the project first is looking to solidify the critical path and continue to educate key stakeholders within institutions.  In working to fill some of the data gaps, a monitoring workshop may be held later in the year. As these pieces of the puzzle are filled in, implementation of pilot projects will begin to happen next year.  “Critical to the success of this project is understanding investments in watershed services,” explained Rebecca. “If we haven’t convinced the directors of the institutions and the people on the ground that will be doing the implementation that this is important, then it won’t work.  Our whole approach is like having a discussion with the Working Group to find out what their ideas and questions are, then bringing people in to help them understand or to find the answers.  It might not be the quickest process, but quick and big and scalable doesn’t really happen in Ghana. I’ve often found that we hardly ever hit the bulls eye we are aiming at, but we usually achieve all sorts of other inspiring and important objectives that you would never have imagined at the outset.”

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