Saha Global, Water Access Now, and Catholic Relief Services – A New Partnership for Clean Water

We are thrilled to announce the opening of two new clean water businesses through a partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Water Access Now (WAN).

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. CRS works to save, protect, and transform lives in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, health, agriculture, education, microfinance, and peacebuilding. CRS began working in Ghana just one year after independence, in 1958, and has two offices in Accra and Tamale.

Since 2007, WAN and CRS have supported over 220 health facilities, schools, and communities to gain access to safe drinking water in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West, and Oti Regions of Ghana. To date, WAN has provided over $2 million to support the provision of safe water supply through the construction and rehabilitation of boreholes, including limited mechanized water systems.

CRS approached Saha to discuss their water business model as an alternative to communities with very poor aquifers to support groundwater extraction and use. Several attempts by CRS and WAN using conventional drilling methods and technologies failed to provide sufficient water in several rural communities.

Saha specializes in providing water solutions to rural communities where other technologies won’t work– either in areas with no accessible groundwater or unsuitable groundwater (salty, contaminated, seasonal, or a combination), and with populations so small that the economics of other systems are unsustainable. Together with CRS, we found two communities that were the perfect fit for both organizations. CRS is deeply involved in the communities through Savings and Internal Lending (SILC) groups and other interventions, and Saha could fill in the missing piece for clean, safe water.

The two communities, located in West Mamprusi and Gushegu districts, were coordinated by Saha Implementers Shirazu Yakubu, Charity Dong, Implementation Supervisor Nestor Danaa, and CRS Project Officer Emmanuel Narimah. The water business in Sooba, in West Mamprusi opened on June 21 by water entrepreneurs Azaratu, Amina, Mariama, and Arhanatu. Their business provides clean water access for all 38 households in their community, with more than 600 people! On opening day, all 119 families came out and filled their Saha Safe Storage Container (SSC) – that’s 2,380 liters of treated, safe water going into homes on a single day! Since opening, while rainy season has begun, sales at the center are continuing with some customers even coming from neighboring villages to purchase clean water.

The second community, Nanyuni, in Gushegu, opened their water business with entrepreneurs Alima, Felicia, and Ama on July 6. This business provides clean water access to 351 people in the 25 households in Nanyuni.  On opening day, all 75 families in this village came to fill their SSC and bring clean water back to their families. When we’ve visited after opening, it’s been amazing to see how strong the business is continuing – though it’s been open less than a month, the entrepreneurs have already purchased chlorine twice to keep up with the volume of treatment!

At Saha, we know that by partnering with CRS in these communities, it will create an even stronger clean water business in the long term. The financial training the entrepreneurs receive through the SILC programs can inform their water business acumen. We look forward eagerly to future opportunities for collaboration in our mission to bring clean water to rural communities in northern Ghana.

“The Saha Global Water Business Model is a guaranteed approach for providing safe drinking water to communities with poor groundwater potential. The exciting part of the model is the treatment process, which is simple and done by rural women with little or no formal education. The women also make some earnings from the sale of the treated water. Thus, improving health of communities and addressing financial constraints facing women. The first two beneficiaries of the model in partnership with Water Access Now (WAN) and Catholic Relief Services (i.e., Sooba and Nanyuni) are bustling with excitement. It is my hope that more communities will be covered”.

  • Emmanuel Narimah (WASH Project Officer- Catholic Relief Services)

“Before the Water Treatment site was constructed, we drank unclean water directly from our river, which came with frequent health conditions such as diarrhea in our community, but now thanks to WAN, CRS, and SAHA Global we have clean drinking water for ourselves and our visitors. Hopefully, our disease burden will be reduced or eliminated totally”.

  • Dokurugu – Field Agent (Savings and Internal Lending Communities, SILC), Sooba Community



Signboard installation at Sooba
Community meeting at Sooba
Charity at opening day in Sooba



Women entrepreneurs in Sooba learning how to assemble safe storage containers
Assembling the center at Nanyuni
Alum works at Nanyuni
Opening Day in Nanyuni


Emergency Water Fund Wrap Up Part II: The Stories

Throughout the Emergency Water Fund (EWF), we’ve been able to talk to our entrepreneurs and customers to get a better understanding of how they feel about COVID, clean water, and the free water program.

The water entrepreneurs were working really hard throughout this time, treating much more water than they had before (see Part I: The Numbers). We asked them several questions about the EWF and their feedback was really interesting and really helpful for Saha to consider.

First 98% of the entrepreneurs that we surveyed were satisfied with the EWF payments. We told the women that they were allowed to use the money earned for anything they wanted, and they did!  Some examples include:

  • Paying school fees for their children
  • Purchasing plots of land for farming
  • Purchasing seeds to store and sell later
  • Farming rice
  • Expanding stores/growing trading businesses
  • Buying cell phones
  • Planning new businesses
  • Investing in village savings and loan (VSLA) associations

Despite being satisfied with payments, 49% found the EWF “stressful” or “not easy” due to the tremendous increase in clean water demand and workload. This is not surprising, especially given the other responsibilities that the women entrepreneurs have at home, including farming and harvesting shea nuts, cooking, cleaning, and caring for their children. In the future, as we consider potential changes to our model aimed at increasing clean water consumption in Saha villages, it will be really important for Saha to acknowledge the increase in workload to the entrepreneurs and to explore solutions to burnout.

The first few months of the COVID response in Ghana included lockdowns in larger cities and limited public transportation which had economic impacts in Saha communities.  Most communities’ primary economy is farming or fishing, and the people rely on travel to larger market towns to sell their goods and to buy things that aren’t produced in the communities.  While there were no official lockdowns in the north, travel was restricted, and many people didn’t travel outside of their communities due to fear about the virus.  People had challenges both selling their goods and finding everything they would normally buy in market towns.  After the initial few months of this, markets returned to normal, with some changes.  There are “veronica” buckets for handwashing stationed at many places, and you need to wear a face mask to board public transportation.

Entrepreneurs reported that while their long-time customers were fetching water for free, so were many other people who had previously only fetch sporadically or not at all.  That’s exciting to us – we like the idea that the free water might have created new continuing water purchasers by removing the cost barrier to clean water.  When we polled customers about the free water, we heard 100% positive feedback, including:

  • “I was very excited for fetching water at the center for free!”
  • “It actually helped me and my family.”
  • “Very grateful for the free water project.
  • “Saha should keep telling the entrepreneurs to be active in treatment so that people will not miss drinking clean water at the center.”

We asked village “VIPs” – elders, assemblymen, chairmen, volunteers, and chiefs about their perception of the free water program. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, including:

  • “Everyone had the chance of getting clean water available in the community!”
  • “It is very good and wished if could continue, because I’m the community leader I really liked the idea everyone could come for water and it prevents my people from various illness.”
  • “This initiative was the best, even though it wasn’t everyone who fetched, but most of the the community people fetched the free water so it has really helped my community.”

One VIP even told us that he refused to drink dugout water when offered in another community he visited recently! We asked them for advice about what Saha could do now that the EWF had ended, and they told us to keep visiting households, educating the community, and encouraging them to purchase.  Many told us that they want to be included more in that effort going forward, and using their influence to encourage people to drink safe water.

Overall, the response from entrepreneurs, customers, and VIPs was positive – more people were drinking clean water and seeing how it could fit into their lives over the EWF period.  Now the real work for Saha begins: how to keep those new customers, retain the old ones, and keep supporting entrepreneurs and communities with their clean water businesses.

Mma Damu, water entrepreneur in Balamposo (photo credit: David Gutierrez Gomez)

Emergency Water Fund Wrap Up – Part 1: The Numbers

Saha Global’s Emergency Coronavirus Water Fund program. (EWF) ran for 10 months from June 2020 through March 2021.  The program was established to fulfill a government mandate that as part of coronavirus relief, water had to be provided for free for all Ghanaians.  Now that the program is wrapped up, and the team has fully transitioned back to normal operations and can look back and take stock of all the program accomplished.

We ran the EWF program with 226 businesses, and were able to fully fund the program due to a combination of working with generous existing funders and direct fundraising from foundations and individuals, including over 19,750 USD from individual donors on Giving Tuesday 2020.

The EWF focused on enabling women entrepreneurs to give the water for free – by providing the supplies they need for treatment and paying them a wage to replace lost earnings.  We created a bonus structure whereby women could earn an additional 33% on top of the monthly wage if the community reported that water was free and conveniently available all month.

In the 10 months of operation, on average 92.5% of entrepreneurs earned their bonus each month – keeping businesses running throughout the rainy season (roughly mid-June through September), a time when many choose to temporarily close the business due to easy and free rainwater access.  This means that month after month, they continued to treat water and give it away – for free!  When asked, 98% of customers reported free and consistent access to the water.

Water quality remained high throughout the program – 98% of tested polytanks were clean and free from disease-causing E. coli.

When we sum up all the chlorine Aquatabs that were used over the program, women entrepreneurs treated more than 10 million liters of water – a massive increase over previous years.

In addition to treating and giving away clean water, the EWF program also focused on education around mask wearing, social distancing, and hand-washing.  We posted large infographic posters at the water centers and smaller ones on household safe storage containers – over 14,000 pieces of educational material in all.  In staff observations, 94% of the time we saw social distancing protocols followed at the business.  We distributed over 3,000 reusable cloth masks to over 600 women entrepreneurs so they could stay safe while serving their communities – and 95% of the time our staff arrived at the business, they saw the women wearing them.

Overall, we are thrilled with the results of the EWF program. We are proud we could support the government’s goal of providing both health benefits and economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We also learned a lot about the barriers and motivations people have for drinking clean water!  There’s a lot more we will learn as the businesses transition back to self-sustaining enterprises.  For now, we are focusing on opening new businesses again, and working with our existing businesses to keep the momentum from the EWF program going.

In our next post, we will share some of the anecdotes and stories from the field throughout the EWF. Stay tuned!