Thirsty in the midst of abundance: the weird case of Sierra Leone.
All across the developing world access to water is a key issue. In places like Niger, parts of north Ghana, Burkina -Faso and the list is countless; it has been documented and and over how people especially women and children walk long distances to access water. Even then, it is not clean water.
The access of good, clean and safe drinking water has increasingly been limited to the capital cities and big cities and towns in West Africa.
In Sierra Leone’s Freetown, the problem of access to water – safe clean water is exacerbated by the hilly/mountainous nature of most parts of the capital.
The west of Freetown has improved water accessibility but one can not say the water is safe. In the east the problem is worse especially between Kissi area to Calabatown. The ground is hard and mostly composing red compact gravel of a sort. When I lived in Calabatown, we had to rely on a “waterman” to bring us water. We do not know where the water comes from and once or twice, I have seen a group of young men who also sell water gather around an over sewage where tap water was gushing out. It was this water that was used to fill the gallons that later ended up in our homes for bathing, washing, cooking and other house chores. That was my experience in the east of Freetown – formally called ‘Western Rural’.
My networks, lack of transport to the “urban” part of Freetown forced me to look Westward when my lease on the house became due in February 2013.
Enter Godrich in the ‘Western Urban’ part of Freetown. In this part we were supposed to have better transport, more consistent electricity and water. At Godrich, our new house is on a little incline and since the water pressure is too low for the water to go up the incline, we have had to pump water up the house. For those further up hill, they have had to fetch the water in gallons.
Perhaps what is sad is that 60% if not more of the water between Lumely and Godrich is wasted by people coming down the hills to fetch water. They cut pipes carrying the water indiscriminately; thus letting the water wast so they can access the water. The result is highly unsafe water that puts consumers at risk of cholera, typhoid, and other water borne diseases.
Further exacerbating the situation is that there is no effort to organise how people connect to the main pipes as new builders and contractors randomly drill into these pipes and make poor jobs of sealing them back. Pipes are nailed to the walls of sewage or beside sewage.
So Freetown and most of Sierra Leone’s water problem is not one of lack of water, it is one of poor management, lack of innovative thinking on the part of government, the Guma Valley Water Company and other stakeholders.
Things that need doing is finding solution to put pipes in the hard ground that surrounds much if not all of Freetown. Freetown is largely organised in terms of streets and planning. Indeed it is more organised than Accra or Lagos for that matter which makes a systemised piping and distribution easy.
Second is to create booster stations in strategic parts of the city to guarantee that water can reach the houses and people on the hills. Where this still can’t work, wells can be drilled and fitted with reservoirs at the highest points and the use gravity to distribute the water.
For small homes and squatters, communal stand pipes can be provided around the concept of rural water projects with a committee to oversee it and collect fees on behalf of the water company.
Currently I dare say that the Guma Valley Water Company (GVWC) struggles to earn 40% of income it should be earning all because of waste, theft and potential business that they fail to provide.
As with many state run utility companies the government of Sierra Leone does not have the capital required to prefinance the system. It will require some level of privatisation or high thinking business people to guarantee safe, clean and accessible drinking water to the people of Freetown (where more than 2million of the estimated 6million Sierra Leoneans live) and Sierra Leone as a whole.
It is a typical catch-22 but water is a business that can generate the money the government so much needs to complement what they have achieved so far…same goes for electricity, health and education.
Irrespective, Sierra Leone abounds only in opportunities and that is all anyone needs to turn this great country around.