Freshwater covers nearly 5% of the total land area in Ghana, primarily made of the Volta, South Western and Coastal river systems. Neary half of the water used in Ghana originates from three international rivers (Volta, Bia, Tano), which flow into the country from outside of Ghana’s borders, putting the country at risk of water insecurity and political tensions should water availability decline. Currently, tensions already exist between Ghana and Burkina Faso due to Burkina Faso’s decision to withdraw its water from the Volta Basin, reducing water levels and impacting hydropower generation in Ghana [1], [2].

Key metrics suggest Ghana is moving towards water stressed. Total annual renewable water resources declined to 1888 m³ per person in 2018 (only 188 m³ above the Falkenmark Water Stress IndexThe Falkenmark Water Stress Index measures water scarcity as the amount of renewable freshwater that is available for each person each year. A country is said to be experiencing water stress when water availability is below 1,700 m3 per person per year; below 1,000 m3 is considered water scarcity; and below 500 m3 is absolute or severe water scarcity.), from 3590 m³ in 1992 [3]. Further declines are likely to be experienced in the years to come. Moreover, the Volta Basin flows could be reduced by as much as 24% by mid-century and by as much as 45% by end of the century due to reduced rainfall and increased evaporation [4].

Clean water and sanitation are a challenge for some areas and communities in Ghana, where approximately 25% of the population lacks access to clean water [1], [5]. Data from Ghana Living Standard surveys show that the proportion of population using improved drinking water services increased from 37.3% in 2013 to 44.3% in 2017. Though the urban population has more access than the rural, the percentage increase in access to improved water over the period (2013-2017) was higher in rural areas. In Ghana, improving access to adequate sanitation facilities is a priority [6]. In 2012, the World Bank estimated that the lack of improved sanitation costs Ghana $290 million per year, equivalent to $12 per person, largely due to costs associated with health care and premature death [7].


Increased pressures from a growing population, urbanization, industrialization and climate change all contribute to the water problem in Ghana. Climate change is causing declining rainfall, increased levels of drought and rising temperatures in Ghana, and rising sea levels are already increasing salinization in coastal water sources and wells. The reduced quantity and quality of water will be a significant challenge for human consumption as well as use in the agriculture, industry and hydropower sectors [1], [5].

Significant challenges persist in the water and sanitation sector. Only 18% of Ghanaians use basic sanitation (i.e., household latrines), and Ghanaians living in the poorest quintile are 22 times more likely than those living in the richest quintile to practice open defecation [7]. About 20% of the entire country’s population practice open defecation, but it is more widespread in the three regions of northern Ghana where more than 70% of the population practice [6]. Open defecation exacerbates infectious disease and malnutrition [7].


Key policies and governance approach

The National Water Policy was adopted in 2007, and its objectives have largely been achieved at the national and basin levels in relation to areas including access to water, water for other uses (irrigation, industry, hydropower), public awareness, planning and research, and international cooperation. Furthermore, the Riparian Buffer Zone Policy for managing freshwater resources was adopted in 2013 and is being used by relevant authorities including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority (LUPSA) and Water Resources Commission (WRC) [8].

The National IWRM Plan was developed in 2012, mainstreamed into the National Development Planning framework and implemented under the Medium-Term Development Plans. Planned objectives included strengthening the regulatory and institutional frameworks for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), enhancing public awareness and education, and improving knowledge base [8].

Ghana’s Water Sector Strategic Development Plan 2012-2025 aims for ‘sustainable water and basic sanitation for all by 2025’ through three main priorities: (i) Ensuring sustainable financing for investments, operation, and maintenance of WASH services; (ii) Ensuring that water sector institutions have the required expertise, information, equipment, logistics, and financing to perform their functions; and (iii) Ensuring sustainable harnessing, utilization, and management of water resources. The Government of Ghana aligns its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) priorities with those of the SDGs, the Africa Agenda 2063, and the 2015 Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene [7].

Furthermore, Ghana is a member of the global Water and Sanitation for All Partnership. To ensure this alignment, the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources (MSWR), established in 2017, reorganized its key Water and Sanitation Directorates to foster a harmonized approach to policy development, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. Key approaches to achieve water and sanitation for all by 2025 include: developing innovative finance mechanisms for the sector; and enacting legislation to better regulate sanitation and water, to increase household sanitation facilities, and to expand access to potable water in urban and rural areas [7].

The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) is implementing a National Environmental Sanitation Strategy and Action Plan (NESSAP) together with a Strategic Environmental Sanitation Investment Plan (SESIP) to guide investments in the water sector. NESSAP has adopted the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme – an innovative methodology for mobilising communities to completely eliminate open defecation. A national strategy to promote hand-washing with soap is also being implemented by Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CSWA) in collaboration with allied agencies and the private sector [6].



According to Ghana’s latest progress report on SDG indicator 6.5.1 (2020), Ghana is doing well with regards to its policy and regulatory environment, and its institution and participation. However, gender related IWRM interventions need to be given greater attention as well as engagement of the private sector in IWRM participation [9].

The main challenges to IWRM implementation in the country include limited monitoring and evaluation of IWRM elements and interventions, data collection on a sustainable basis, inclusive participation in IWRM targeting the vulnerable, private sector, and gender etc., and insufficient disbursement of funds for IWRM elements/initiatives [8].  

Similarly, WASH lacks sufficient funding. Local governments often have poor capacity to effectively plan, budget, mobilize finance, and manage local WASH services. Furthermore, the private sector approaches and engagement in WASH service delivery remain underutilized. Private sector engagement represents an important opportunity for the country. The global COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of hygiene practices, and access to clean water and handwashing facilities. The increased prioritization of these services due to COVID-19 presents an opportunity to build collective energy across the public and private sectors on the issue [7].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Government’s efforts at improving access to reliable water services have focused on rehabilitating and expanding water treatment plants and networks, and constructing new water supply systems. These include the Upper East water supply project, Kpong water supply and expansion project, Yendi water supply project and the sustainable rural water supply improvement project. To ensure the supply of wholesome water, a National Drinking Water Quality Management Framework is being implemented. The framework provides a structured and systematic approach for the management of drinking water quality from catchment to consumers, to ensure its safety and reliability [6].


[7], [9]

  • Strengthen communication and knowledge base for the National Water Policy formulation and implementation.
  • Strengthen collaboration with security agencies for enforcement of IWRM related regulations.
  • Develop a Monitoring & Evaluation Plan for IWRM across sectors for effective implementation and management.  
  • Build capacity of stakeholders through mainstreaming of water resources related actions and implementation across all levels.
  • Map out opportunities to engage the private sector for IWRM participation.
  • Initiate processes towards formal representation of the public in IWRM processes towards decision making on important issues and activities.
  • Retool the primary hydrological stations and expand the hydrogeological network for continuous surface and groundwater monitoring.
  • Upscale the flood and drought early warning systems (FEWS and DEWS) to other at-risk areas in the country.
  • Develop the effluent discharge and pollution control regulations while reviewing guidelines for water quality.
  • Develop and implement strategies to increase Internally Generated Funds (IGF).
  • Engage the Ministry of Finance for increase in government budgetary allocations and disbursement to implement IWRM elements.
  • Create an enabling environment (policy and incentives) for private sector participation in the WASH sector.
  • Strengthen the planning, budgeting, delivery and oversight of local governments for WASH services.
  • Raise awareness to improve WASH practices amongst the public.