While many citizens and policy makers continue to believe that the best way to ensure that water, food and energy is supplied to homes and businesses is by expanding the existing systems and installing new ones. I prefer to look for solutions in small and independent systems that use unsophisticated but smart technologies to create and maintain the supplies basic to our existence. It is not realistic to think that every household can meet all of its needs within its walls, but with clever designs, many systems can be installed that can deliver water and energy and to some extent food in a year round manner.
This is easily achievable in our tropical Ghanaian situation by making these systems a part of the design of our homes that are yet to be built or re-engineering existing homes to equip them with water storage and purification systems as well as energy. The big energy generation and water supply systems are prone to frequent breakdowns and cost a lot of money to maintain. The situation in Accra is clearly a demonstration that big systems do not work or work only for a few people, and yet our tax money is used to fund the systems that will not benefit all of us.
The Current and Future Challenge
Majority of houses in Ghana have designs that are not suitable for a tropical climate as we have here. There are times of the year when there is excessive heat and low wind currents and many of us suffer greatly, being unable to sleep until early hours of the morning. In the face of insufficient energy supply, many houses are built complete with slide doors and windows, ostensibly to meet the style and status requirement. All of these bad features couple with the increasing population argues for an immediate policy to avert future crisis as though the current crisis is not debilitating enough.
In addition to these shortfalls, the earth’s climate is changing; it will continue to do so far into the future at rates projected to be unprecedented in human history. Ghana’s vulnerability to the risks associated with climate change may exacerbate the current social and economic challenges. The effects of climate change are inevitable and the earlier Ghana adapts the better. The effect of this phenomenon on the social life of the population is overwhelming especially in the areas of agriculture, energy and water supply.
Ghana Water Company currently cannot meet the water needs of the population in Ghana. The company only produces two million out of the total needs of about five million gallons for inhabitants of Accra, not to talk of other parts of Ghana. These problems are worsened by the changes in climate; the proposal therefore will look at interventions at the household level with the aim of adapting to climate change. The recent earthquake in Japan has forced the shutdown of the large nuclear plants and the private sector is suddenly producing small energy production systems for homes.
The Solution to Production Shortfalls
The current social and economic paradigm of making huge investments into building even bigger systems for energy, food and water production must give way to small, low-tech, smart systems. These independent systems of a necessity must be home-based and the new policies must empower the individual with technical assistance to generate their own basic needs. Currently, most Ghanaians are doing this anyway, many rural communities are not connected to the water and electricity supply grid of the country and even in the big cities like Accra, there are suburbs like Dome that meet all of its water supply needs by boreholes.
Apart from borehole water, storage tanks that can hold rainwater for 6 months at full capacity will effectively put Ghana Water Company out of operation. The difficulty with independent supply systems is that many people hate assuming responsibility for many things, but when there is a crisis and the lights are off and the taps are not flowing, people wake up and do whatever is necessary to meet these basics. The idea is to activate this survival instinct and use them in a proactive manner to ensure that all households will install systems that can provide water and energy. When this is successful, we would have developed the capacity to deal with worse case situations that will cripple large systems.
The interventions in food supply will take the form of balcony gardens, backyard farming and ‘flower pot’ agriculture. While this measure may not be able to meet all the food supply needs of households, it can cut a considerable percentage off. Placing the challenge of food supply in the hands of individual household means that they can tend their garden at their spare time; eliminating the long supply chain that is associated with the current food supply system. Households will also reduce their food wastage and improve their ability to recycle biological waste in the form of conversion into manure through a simple processing plant to fertilize their garden.
Waste management is also becoming a major problem for city authorities, connecting manure production to recycling of bio-waste will separate it from the waste generated. Paper and plastic waste will be easier to recycle if it is not fouled by decomposing bio-waste. Manure preparation is odourless and environmentally friendly; employing the activity of earthworms in a fortified plastic container as a bioreactor. The benefit is improved yield of backyard garden and reduces the burden of bio-waste handling which generate many infectious disease cases.
When I saw a young man on the TGIF show reporting the development of a system that allows the use of few solar panels to power a home, I was excited and more so when President Mills for a meeting invited him. A technology like this can make it possible for households to operate their own energy supply systems.
In addition to this, small wind turbines as well as biogas production systems all can be integrated into an efficient home-based energy system for cooking and lighting. The provision of the right kind of technical assistance in the form of modules and light-equipment to enable such home-based systems to run efficiently will make a big difference in our livelihoods.
Patrick Kobina Arthur (PhD), firstname.lastname@example.org, http://pakar1-corner.blogspot.com/