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Professorial Inaugural Lecture by Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko

The Vice-Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, through the Public Lectures Committee invites the Academic Community and the general public to a Professorial Inaugural Lecture of Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko scheduled as follows:

Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko

Abstract of the Lecture

Topic: “Universal Access to Water and Sanitation Services: A Myth or Reality?”

Access to clean water and improved sanitation is fundamental for public health, socio-economic development and human dignity. It is crucial for maintaining hygiene and preventing waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery, amoebiasis, diarrhoea. Water supply spurs economic growth through its impact on the productive sectors, such as industry and on livelihoods. Similarly, appropriate sanitation practices help protect public health and conserve the environment by preventing pollution and protecting ecosystems.

Inadequate and poor access to water and sanitation is associated with adverse health outcomes, including diarrheal diseases, soil-transmitted helminth infections, vector-borne diseases, and environmental enteric dysfunction, leading to malnutrition, stunting and, sometimes, impaired cognitive development in children. These health risks are particularly severe in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Globally, poor access to water and sanitation results in approximately 1.7 billion cases of gastrointestinal diseases, especially in children under five years each year, with over 700,000 annual fatalities.

Recognizing the importance of water and sanitation, the United Nations (UN) declared access to water and sanitation a human right and, hence, a universal obligation. The drive for universal access to water and sanitation began with the UN's first water decade, the international drinking water and sanitation decade from 1980 to 1990, and subsequently the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6.1 and 6.2 call for universal access to water and sanitation by 2030. Ghana’s medium-term plans and long-term development goals, in line with regional (Africa) and international targets articulated in the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership, African Water Vision 2025, and African Union Agenda 2063, also aim to improve access to safe, affordable, reliable, and sustainable water, environmental sanitation, and hygiene services for all by 2030.

Yet, universal access to water and sanitation services remains a challenge, especially in LMICs. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of people without access to basic sanitation, with 494 million affected. Ghana has made significant progress over the past decades but still faces substantial challenges in achieving its policy commitments on water and sanitation. The main challenges are expanding access to the unserved population without water and sanitation services; a task which becomes more complex due to the need for enhanced sustainability of systems as service delivery approaches full coverage.

In this lecture, the importance of water and sanitation, the current situation, and key challenges will be presented. I will then demonstrate how my research contributes to addressing these key challenges in the water and sanitation sector. My research covers water quality modeling in water distribution systems, improving access to urban water utilities, developing a technology applicability framework for assessing new technologies, sanitation technologies from user interface to disposal and treatment, sanitation financing, greywater treatment and management, and the sustainability of water and sanitation services. With just six years left until 2030, it is crucial to reflect on whether universal access to water and sanitation by 2030 is a myth or a reality. This will be examined within the Ghanaian context by exploring the current status, challenges, and initiatives in the sector. I will also propose strategic recommendations for policy and practice towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation, based on my research and experience in the water and sanitation sector.

Ghana's water and sanitation sector has seen significant progress over the past decades in terms of policy, legal, regulatory, and institutional arrangements, which have successfully attracted investments in infrastructure. By 2022, 88% of Ghanaians had access to at least basic water services, up from 56% in 1990, although 1.4 million people still relied on unprotcted surface water supply. For sanitation, 29% had access to basic services, up from 7% in 1990, yet 5.7 million people (17%) still practised open defecation. These improvements highlight,  however, have been limited by a number of persistent challenges, which have been exacerbated by population growth, urbanization, and climate change. There are also significant disparities in access that also underscore the gap between Ghana's SDGs 6.1 and 6.2 commitments and the current reality.

To achieve universal coverage and access to safe water and sanitation, I propose the following:

First, a comprehensive assessment of the overall water supply landscape for urban areas, small towns, and rural communities is necessary to determine the best service management arrangements based on economies of scale, efficiency improvements and regulatory enhancements. Exploring the option of creating two or three utilities that serve a combination of urban, small-town, and rural areas across the country, could engender competition through effective benchmarking for efficiency gains, while the enhancement of service delivery regulations that ensure adherence to water quality and other service delivery standards, is also crucial. Additionally, leveraging innovative financing approaches to expand water supply to the unserved and poorly served populations is essential.

Second, to provide sustainable water and sanitation services, it is imperative to address the high rates of non-functional water and sanitation infrastructure, including those in institutions,  which stem from inadequate planning, budgeting and expenditure on operations and maintenance. All existing water and sanitation infrastructure must have a functional asset management plan with planned budgets for recurring expenditures such as repairs, rehabilitation, and asset renewals linked to the condition and useful life of the assets. This approach will ensure the sustainability of investments and lead to more effective and impactful service outcomes.

Third, through the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources (MSWR), the Government of Ghana should design and implement a national program on universal toilet coverage using   household access as a key driver. The programme should ensure use of quality, durable, and user-friendly toilet facilities for all households and institutions, that are also accessible to identifiable vulnerable groups. This requires the creation of an enabling environment by the MSWR for market-based sanitation solutions that address both demand and supply constraints. Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) should enforce laws on household toilets, ensuring compliance with quality standards through robust monitoring and supervision mechanisms. This should allow targeted subsidies for poor households to build toilets and expedite progress towards universal access to sanitation. This will be a game-changer in creating sustainable jobs along the sanitation value chain (e.g., for artisans, suppliers of construction materials, financial institutions, and other service providers) and facilitate the construction of household toilets for the over 5 million people without toilets and operating and maintaining these toilets sustainably.

Fourth, to address the problem of untreated and unsafe disposal of faecal sludge, a national Liquid Waste Management Strategy that incorporates a Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Program is warranted. In implementing the framework, the MSWR should develop a program with a clear regulatory framework, including specific regulations and standards for the safe collection, transportation, treatment, and disposal of faecal sludge to provide guidance to the MMDAs. Additionally, the program should include a costed master plan with robust financing mechanisms to support FSM infrastructure and services, beginning with all MMDA capitals.

Fifth, as part of the Liquid Waste Management Strategy, the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources should develop a national framework for Greywater Management to guide the MMDAs on greywater collection, treatment, and disposal. Integrating greywater management with existing Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives is necessary. MMDAs should be held accountable for managing greywater in their respective areas in accordance with the Greywater Management Framework.

Sixth, a strong government commitment is essential to expanding water and sanitation access for all in a sustainable, efficient, and equitable manner. Additionally, the government should invest in research, development, and innovation to generate solutions to address the water and sanitation challenges in areas including financing, technology options, institutional design, and marketing to ensure effective implementation and sustainability.

Keywords: Public Health, Sanitation, Sustainable Development Goals, Sustainable services, Universal access, Water.

Profile of Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko

MGHIE, BSc (Kumasi), MSc and PhD (Delft)

(A Professor of Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation Engineering and the Provost of College of Engineering (CoE), KNUST).


Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko is a Professor of Civil Engineering at The Faculty of Civil and Geo-Engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi. As a water and sanitation expert, Professor Biritwum Nyarko has over two decades of experience in teaching, researching, and providing consultancy and advisory services.

Professor Biritwum Nyarko hails from Nsuta Kwaman in the Sekyere Central District of the Ashanti Region. His parents are Dr Daniel Nyarko and Mrs Angelina Nyarko. He is the second of five children. He received his basic education at Ridge Experimental School in Sunyani and secondary education at Prempeh College in Kumasi. Professor Biritwum Nyarko obtained his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in 1994 with First Class Honours. He obtained his master’s degree in sanitary engineering in 1998 from IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and his PhD in Development Studies from International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands in 2007.

Professor Biritwum Nyarko served in the Civil Engineering Department for his national service after graduation. After his national service, he was appointed expert in sanitary engineering in 1995 at the then Training Network Centre of the Civil Engineering Department. After his MSc, he was appointed lecturer in 1998 at the Civil Engineering Department. Professor Biritwum Nyarko was promoted to senior lecturer in October 2006, associate professor in August 2014, and professor in August 2020.

Academic and Administrative Experience

Professor Biritwum Nyarko is currently the Provost of the College of Engineering, KNUST, a position he has held since 1 November 2022. Before this, he was the Vice Dean of The Faculty of Civil and Geo-Engineering from August 2020 to October 2022. He was the Head of Department of the Department of Petroleum Engineering from August 2016 to July 2020. He was the Project Lead for the KNUST Engineering Education Project (KEEP), one of the leading World Bank ACE centres in West Africa focusing on expanding access to high-quality postgraduate engineering programmes from May 2019 to October 2022.

Professor Biritwum Nyarko has served on several boards and committees at KNUST. He has served as member of  the  Search Committee for the Appointment of Provost of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, chairman of the Committee to Review Draft Policy on Course Buyout for Academic Staff, member of the UNESCO Category II Status Centre Proposal Committee, member of the Advisory Board of the Office of Grants and Research,  member of the Committee to Design Assessment Instruments and Evaluation Submissions for Departmental Rankings at KNUST (2017), member of the Advisory Board for Tullow Scholarship at KNUST,  member of the Committee to Develop Action Plans to Create and Deepen Enduring and Win-Win Relationships and Partnerships with the KNUST Alumni, Government, Community, and other Stakeholders, chairman of the College Appointments and Promotions Sub-Committee, chairman of the College of Engineering Board, chairman of the Planning Committee of the 2nd International Conference on Engineering, Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship (ESTE) 2017, member of the Local Organising Committee of the 39th WEDC International Conference at Kumasi, member of the Committee on Modernising Engineering Drawing in the Departments, member of the Committee to Develop a Proposal to Establish a World Bank-Sponsored African Centre of Excellence for Water and Sanitation,  member of the Committee to Review Proposals for a Top-Up Programme in Civil Engineering & MSc in Meteorology and Climate Science, and member of the Committee to Harmonise TCC Re-structuring Report and Recommendations.

Professor Biritwum Nyarko is a council member of the Ghana Institution of Engineering, a member of the Board of Engineering Council of Ghana, the chairman of the Governing Council Ghana Water Institute, and an advisory board member of Safe Water Network, Ghana.

Membership of Professional Bodies

Professor Biritwum Nyarko is a member of the International Water Association and the Ghana Institution of Engineering.


Professor Biritwum Nyarko was recognised for his outstanding contribution to research in the World Scientist and University Ranking in 2021 and 2022. In 2018, he received the CONIWAS National WASH Stewardship Award for the Best Contributor to Research and Development in Ghana’s WASH sector.

Research Outputs and Publications

Professor Biritwum Nyarko's research interest covers hydraulic and water quality modelling of water distribution systems, water safety, sanitation technologies, sustainable rural and community water supply, water supply in small towns, cost recovery and community management.

Professor Nyarko has over a hundred publications in peer-reviewed journals, conference proceedings, working papers, books, technical reports and briefing notes. He has a very good H-index of 22 and 1,524 citations on Google Scholar.

Similarly, on Research Gate he has an H-index of 15,874 citations and a Research Interest Score of 715, which is higher than 90% of Research Gate members. He has 47,247 Publication Reads.

Grants and Consultancies

Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko has attracted grants from various funding agencies to Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology to support education, research, and advisory services in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sectors. He has attracted and managed research and capacity-building projects worth more than $10 million at KNUST and contributed to raising over $20 million for the university.

Professor Biritwum Nyarko is leading the KNUST component of an international research consortium led by Aquaya Institute in the US on the Rural Evidence and Learning for Water (REAL-Water) research project, a five-year $18.9 million - Cooperative Agreement from USAID. This research project evaluates strategies for expanding access to safe and sustainable rural water across the developing world.

He was the Project Lead for the $5.5 million KNUST Engineering Education Project (KEEP) funded by the Ghana Government through the World Bank ACE project from 2019 to 2022. This initiative focuses on expanding access to high-quality postgraduate engineering programs at the College of Engineering, KNUST.

He was a key member of the team that secured $2.75 million from the World Bank for KNUST to establish a School of Engineering at the University of Science, Engineering and Technology (USET) in The Gambia. This emerging Centre of Excellence in Engineering aims to start undergraduate civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering programmes.

Previously, he led the KNUST component of a five-year international research project led by IRC in the Netherlands called the WASHCost Project. This $15 million -action research project determined the cost of providing sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services in rural and peri-urban areas of Ghana for sector planning, implementation, and monitoring of sustainable WASH service delivery. Subsequently, he secured funding from the Department for International Development (DFID) through the Adam Smith Institute for KNUST to expand the WASHCost action research in Sierra Leone.

He was the principal investigator for the KNUST-UNICEF Partnership Corporation Agreement, which focused on a capacity development program on key aspects of the Water Safety Plan and addressing sanitation technology challenges in Ghana. He was the team leader for preparing the Ghana Water Sector and Sanitation Sector Development Programme (2021-2030).


Professor Biritwum Nyarko has mentored numerous PhD students in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). His extensive expertise and guidance have significantly contributed to advancing research and innovative solutions in these critical areas.

His mentorship has profoundly shaped the careers of many scholars in water, sanitation, and hygiene. Among his notable mentees are Dr. Eugene Appiah-Effah who is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Civil Engineering, KNUST, Professor Bismark Dwumfour-Asare, a professor and a Dean at AAMUSTED, and Dr. Barbara Gyapong-Korsah, an Assistant Grant and Research Manager at the College of Health Sciences.

Under Professor Biritwum Nyarko's guidance, Dr. Eugene Appiah-Effah has advanced his expertise in environmental engineering, contributing to valuable research on sustainable water supply and sanitation solutions. Professor Bismark Dwumfour-Asare has excelled in his academic and research endeavours, focusing on innovative wastewater treatment technologies. Dr. Barbara Gyapong-Korsah has made significant strides in greywater management with her work influencing policy and practice in the WASH sector.

Professor Biritwum Nyarko's commitment to mentorship is evident in the success and achievements of his former students. His ability to inspire and nurture talent has not only advanced individual careers but also enriched the broader academic and professional community in water, sanitation, and hygiene. His legacy as a mentor is marked by the lasting impact of his mentees' contributions to improving public health and environmental sustainability.

Community Service, Engagement and Outreach

Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko has extensive experience in outreach. He was a member of the team that secured $352,000 from Tullow Ghana Limited as a scholarship fund to support brilliant and needy students. He was instrumental in establishing the College of Engineering Endowment Fund, a key mechanism to ensure the financial sustainability of the postgraduate programs in engineering, which has raised over GH₵6 million. Additionally, he led the development of the proposal to establish the West Africa Sustainable Engineering Network for Development (WASEND) in collaboration with other universities.

He recently led a team to develop the Ghana Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Sector Development Programme (GWASHSDP) (2021 - 2030) for the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources. This comprehensive national WASH program was prepared with active participation from sector stakeholders. It provides an overview of the institutional setup, identifies key challenges, and outlines priority actions to address these challenges in the sector. The programme serves as a guide for WASH activities, projects, and programmes in Ghana.


Professor Kwabena Biritwum Nyarko is married to Dr. (Mrs.) Alberta Adjebeng Biritwum Nyarko, the Director of Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Division at the Ghana Health Service. They have been blessed with two children, Kwasi and Danielle. He enjoys playing badminton, watching movies, and travelling. He is a Christian.

Teaching, Thesis Supervision and Examination

Professor Biritwum Nyarko's teaching portfolio includes undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Environmental Quality Engineering I, Environmental Quality Engineering II, Water Transport and Distribution, Engineering Economy and Entrepreneurship Development, Civil Engineering Design, Engineering Economy and Financial Management.

He has successfully supervised the completion of six PhDs and 71 master’s degrees (MSc/MPhil) at KNUST. He has served as the chairman of several National Accreditation Board for the accreditation of engineering degree programmes at several universities in Ghana. He has also served as an external examiner/moderator and assessor for several universities nationwide and beyond. This includes PhD examiner for Maastricht University, the Netherlands and McGill University, Canada.