When clean running water was brought to a rural community in Ghana six years ago it was hailed as progress. But while the standpipe is convenient, it has caused unforeseen problems.

A rutted dirt road runs through the small settlement of Adjako, about an hour’s drive northwest of Accra. About 800 people live here, in basic homes made of breezeblock, wood and corrugated iron.

The action in Adjako centres around a standpipe in the middle of the village. And it starts early. By 05:30 the cockerels are crowing, the radios are on and the queue at the standpipe is growing. At 06:00 water from the tap starts to flow.

Women and children gather in a noisy group. The conversations are loud and there’s lots of laughter. But, as the clock ticks towards 09:00, the bickering begins in earnest. Because at 09:00, the water stops.

The women – and it is overwhelmingly women and children – argue over whose turn it is next to take water. They shout at each other, overlapping in at least three different languages – Ga from the coast, Twi from the Ashanti region and pidgin English bequeathed by Christian missionaries and British colonialists.

“Why haven’t you filled my barrel?”

“All these people were here before you!”

“What do you mean all these people were before me?”

“I was here before you came!”

Emma, one of the oldest women in Adjako, sits across the road, selling a kind of porridge and a vicious-looking hot sauce with a fish-head floating in the oil.

From time to time she wanders over to the standpipe. She says she is trying to make peace between the bickering women although, frankly, Emma seems to start more arguments than she finishes.

“At this standpipe most of the conversations are heated arguments because the water flow is inconsistent and everyone wants to have the water,” she says.

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