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Water Scarcity Could Affect Ghana Election

As in many African countries, access to basic amenities like running water remains a significant problem in Ghana. As the country gears up for presidential and parliamentary elections later this year, many Ghanaians say the issue will decide their vote. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar, with additional reporting by Ruby Amable.

Grace Adovor, a resident of an expensive neighborhood in Ghana's capital, Accra, says the water situation used to be better.

"When we got to East Legon, there was water flowing every day, 24 hours a day," she said. "But for the past eight years, there has not been any water anywhere. We see water, the last year, we have water on Fridays alone. It comes maybe two hours and stops. But now we have to buy water by tankers. There is no water anywhere."

Adovor says it is having a big impact on her business.

"I am a batik tie-and-dye producer and I have to buy water to produce my batik tie-and-dye which is making the cost of my production very, very high," she said.

She says sometimes her employees must return home without working, because there is no water.

Buying water from private sellers can cost as much as 10 times the official rate from the public water company.

Bertha Otu lives in a middle-class development built in part by the government. She says she used to have running water, but now she is forced to rely on well water. She says she is afraid it is not safe.

"Right now, my granddaughter I am living with is having typhoid. I do not know where it came from," Bertha said.

As Ghana's cities have rapidly expanded in the past 20 years, government services have been unable to keep up. Public utilities, like running water, have become increasingly scarce.

In an attempt to fix the problem, the government began privatizing the water sector. Backed by an interest-free loan from the World Bank, Ghana hired a private company to manage the public water company in 2006.

But anti-privatization activists say the problem has only gotten worse. And they say water is a basic human right, which should not be managed by a for-profit company.

Many Ghanaians say the water problem is a key issue for them in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

Eric Ortabil is an office worker in the capital.

"A politician I will be interested in listening to or even maybe voting for will be somebody who will talk about how they are going to solve this water problem," he said. "Because it is terrible."

Batik-producer Adovor says she thinks this issue might prove decisive against the ruling New Patriotic Party.

"We think this electioneering year, they should tackle this water problem. Otherwise, some of us who voted for this party will not vote for it again," she said.

Ghana president, John Kufuor, and his New patriotic party, came to power in 2000, in the first peaceful transfer of power since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957. Mr. Kufuor won a second term in 2004 but is barred by the constitution from running again.