UNESCO Accra takes a step in the water sector

UNESCO Accra takes a step in the water sector

UNESCO is committed to take up a key role in the knowledge management initiative in the water and sanitation sector in Ghana.

By Ms. Francesca Greco, UN volunteer, UNESCO Ghana.

Why UNESCO is committed to water

When we think about water for development we always think about digging wells, boreholes and latrines, constructing pipelines, dams and other engineering infrastructures. We never think about the “knowledge” with is behind these material achievements. To obtain a real improvement of the water sector in West Africa however, there is not only the need to build and implement efficient engineering works, but to be able to maintain and to monitor the efficiency of the facilities provided. In other words, the need for monitoring and checking the real efficiency of a system sometimes is even more important than the existence of the system itself. It is evident when we think about the Millennium Development Goals: they are the aim of all the UN activities and they are meant to be reached within 2015, but if no one monitors the progress toward the results, no on will know if we will ever reach these goals.

What do we need therefore? We need to improve “knowledge management” in the sector. UNESCO is the UN agency which is committed to knowledge in general and it has a great role to play in science and in the water sector. UNESCO is committed to improve knowledge management in the water sector and to help improve significantly the quality of data analysis and data sharing, as well as the monitoring activity in water and sanitation.

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge is the sum of what is known by an individual or organization or on a subject. Is a product of information, experience, skills and attitude. Knowledge ensures the desired multiplier effect in sector interventions and enables solutions to problems in one region to be replicated in the other.

Knowledge management is managing knowledge which is stored in the heads of people or otherwise, for instance in databases. In the water sector, KM can be used as a facilitating tool for monitoring the network of the water facilities, for solving coordination problems, for harmonizing databases, for spreading and gathering information needed in order to correctly implement the water programmes of the different agencies and donors etc.

What is UNESCO already doing in the water sector worldwide?

UNESCO is already supporting the information sharing in the water sector through different institutions such as:UNESCO IHP – International Hydrological Programme,the UNESCO water portal, UNESCO-coastal regions and small island sections(CSI), UNESCO-man and the biosphere (MAB), UNESCO world water assessment programme (WWAP) and the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Furthermore, UNESCO is carrying out a number of initiatives on water such as the participation in the 4th World Water Forum ( April 2006), the cooperation with UN-WATER, the cooperation with UN Commission on Sustainable Development and the cooperation for the “International Decade for Action- Water for Life” 2005-2015.

UNESCO has just published ( in collaboration with UN water agencies) the SECOND WORLD WATER REPORT.

What is the UNESCO Accra doing for the water sector?

Water borne diseases in Ghana are the main cause of child mortality in the country. In Ghana everyday several children under 5 years die from water borne diseases due to lack of knowledge about hand-washing before food preparation and meals.

Ghana clearly needs to improve its water and sanitation standards in rural and urban areas and in order to do so, information about the existing facilities and current needs are urgently required. Ghana is a very fragmented country where local authorities do not communicate efficiently among them: data about water are not harmonized and very often not comparable from region to region. Local districts need to monitor their water facilities and to build an information network which is able to respond to real necessities when needed.

Knowledge on costs of water or sanitation systems may help a community or household get a fairer deal from local contractors.

International donors which are monitoring water facilities in different regions are not using the same indicators. This is causing a lack of accountable and comparable data, which impedes Ghana to actually monitor its MDGs concerning water and sanitation. In order to address this problem, the government, local NGos and private sector have founded a Knowledge Management Task Force, which is in urgent need of funding.

UNESCO appears to be an appropriate institution to give support to the KM Task Force in their need of training and information support. Information gathering, analysis and sharing, that is “Knowledge Management” ( KM) , is what UNESCO can provide and if UNESCO will succeed in facilitating KM in Ghana, this will have a huge impact in the quality of life of Ghanaians. UNESCO Accra is thus willing to become a strategic agency in the field of knowledge management for the water sector and it is coordinating with the other UN agencies, international donors and local authorities in order to start up a “knowledge management project for the Ghana water sector”. Once this project will be implemented and assessed, UNESCO is planning to replicate it in other countries, in order to create a “good practice” export activity for Knowledge Management in the water sector for Togo, Ivory Coast and Benin.


UNESCO has developed a proposal for the development of a centrally located Resource Centre, with a walk-in water library, which will be able to provide state of the art information on water and sanitation in general and in Ghana in specific, as well as up to date monitoring data on water and sanitation facilities, carefully avoiding any replication of already existing databases. The Resource Centre will provide information to all sector stakeholders in Ghana: donors, NGOs, government, local authorities, with the support of researchers and experts from UNESCO International Hydrological Programme. The capacity building component of the project will be very important because the Resource Centre will have to become self-sustainable. Training courses will be held for local authorities in order to create a long-duration network of water-information flow: from local to central and the opposite way around. The Resource Centre will be managed by the Knowledge Management Task Force, a platform of stakeholders with expertise for playing a decisive role in the developing of the project. The stakeholders include representatives from the Ministry of Works and Housing and the Community water and Sanitation Agency, representatives from international and local NGOs and civil society, and representatives from the private sector.

Being part of the extra-budgetary unit, the project is waiting for money allocation after the submission of the proposal to UNV headquarters in Bonn (Germany) after a first preliminary positive evaluation.