Framing the water and sanitation challenge A history of urban water supply and sanitation in Ghana 1909 - 2005

University dissertation from Umeå : Department of Economic History, Umeå University

Abstract: This thesis analyses the development of urban water supply and sanitation services in Ghana from 1909 to 2005.  Special focus is put on institutional arrangements with regard to networked, large scale and centrally managed water and sewerage services. The national and international historical context is highlighted as a way to understand policy redirections in the sector. Further on, the concept of frames is used as an analytical tool in order to put light on the assumptions, arguments and reasons behind institutional reforms.The thesis finds that it was not until the water and sanitation challenge was framed from a productivity perspective, as opposed to a pure humanitarian “health frame”, that funds were released for investments in WSS infrastructure. To begin with, development strategies were largely focussed on “filling the gaps” in terms of manpower, technical and financial resources. As the water challenge was increasingly framed as a matter of managing scarcity, a new thinking gradually emerged which emphasized entrepreneurship, business mindedness and management skills as a way to achieve more efficiency within the sector. This development was also paralleled by a shift in the favoured organisational structure from an extremely centralised state utility model to a gradual focus on decentralisation and unbundling of the sector. Here a strong focus was put on private sector participation in urban water supply whereas the non-commercially viable task of sewerage development was decentralised to local authorities. The study finds that formal institutional change in the sector has been largely donor driven. However, the privatisation element of the recent urban water sector reform did not go unquestioned and a strong opposition movement concerned with the possible negative effects of privatisation was formed. Eventually the initial lease arrangement was transformed into a management contract where its signing was brought to closure in 2005.Besides changing frames strong elements of continuity in the urban water supply and sanitation sector development in Ghana are identified. Historical evidence demonstrate that urban water delivery was a highly political issue in Ghana already during colonial times which, just as today, was closely connected to the framing of water as independence and national integrity. The issue of finance and pricing has remained a constant concern and so the debate cannot be categorized as a novel issue that solely emanates from neo-liberal political trends during the 1980’s and 1990’s. The thesis argues that a legacy of a colonial frame tends to continue normalising inequalities in access and consumption.  Continuity can also be found in a neglect of the issue of sanitation which persistently lags behind the development of water distribution. The dissertation concludes that the perceived space for policy alternatives in Ghanaian WSS sector development has been largely constrained by the historical context and contemporary development theories. Therefore, to constantly strive towards a frame reflective policy dialogue is strongly encouraged as a way for policy planners and decision makers to make well informed decisions for the future.