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Sierra Leone News: Freetown East still crying for water

When people say, “water is life,” I wonder if this really resonates with the people of Freetown East? The many unresolved challenges over the decades, from one regime to another, definitely keep coming back hitting us on the head and giving us long spells of dizziness. The rainy season has ended and the water problem has started, it is now a vicious cycle. If you did not know, the scarcity of water in the East end of Freetown has far reaching implications for the education of our children. In most homes in the East of Freetown, kids are required to fetch water as early as 4:00 a.m. If they miss the early morning hustle for water, they do it in the evening. Of course, all this exposes the girls to various forms of harassment, rape and abuse, which sometimes leads to pregnancies and always leads to psychological damage. Over the years, say two decades and beyond, the Water Ministry has not got its fair share of the National budget. It is obvious that Guma Valley will continue hiding their inefficiency tightly behind insufficient resources as they have always done. The irony of the whole situation is that at least 60% of diseases in our country are water borne. In the East of Freetown, water is actually death. We have a lot of communities in Sierra Leone that go without electricity, but they definitely cannot afford to go without water for even a day. This is why I find it ludicrous for Sierra Leone that the UN World Water Day is in March. We all know March is the driest month in most West African countries. I see it as a biting irony since that is the time Sierra Leoneans forage all over the place to have a drop of water to utilize for various purposes. When each year our Government marks the World Water Day, I find it really sickening to see the kind of mockery our state actors put serious issues to, especially issues impacting on the very survival of the ordinary foot citizen who fends day by day to survive. At the height of Ebola, Government tried to put some giant size Milla tanks in deprived areas. However, many more areas never got them, mostly from Kissy to the Orugu Bridge, the latter being the eastern boundary of Freetown Western Area Urban.  To complicate matters, climate change and the negative behavior of lawless persons on the environment continue to leave untold dire consequences. The water challenge remains perhaps most critical. In the dries in the East of Freetown you find scores of people moving around with five-gallon jerry cans looking for water to buy mostly from wells. Why the Ministry of Water Resources cannot harvest water in the rains like other countries do, is left for them to say. Obama was right when he said that if you have been doing something for fifty years and it did not work, then it is time to do something different. But in Sierra Leone we are so averse to change that we will prefer to hang on to unworkable ideas and think God will bring about the change. No! We all know that Guma Valley is as old as Freetown cotton tree. Why should people think that in the 50s when the population was less than 2 million is the same as the 2000s when we have past 7 million people? On top of all this, the cutting down of trees even around Guma Valley itself and elsewhere does not help increase rainfall. For their part the authorities stand by hopelessly and helplessly, thinking they cannot do much…how absurd! What has happened to all the reserved forests in the Freetown neighbourhoods overlooking our water sources? Our country is so blessed with everything that we have no reason to be in want. No! There are little drops of spring water in many areas. The problem is they cannot serve even the few households around them. There is an area in Wellington called Bush Water. True to its name you find water dripping from underground in the neighbourhood. The volume reduces in the dries but it still remains the only water source for a very large community. In fact, I understand this area polls one of the highest votes at elections in the Western Area. Even if Guma had enough water there remains many challenges for water distribution. Just the other day one jingle was telling school kids to wash their hands and get the water directly from the stand pipe. We all know there are very few schools with pipe borne water. Over 90% of the taps in the east had long ceased to exist and those lingering around surely have no water. Our great Sorie Guma has now proven to be far inadequate to supply water to the city. When the Guma Valley was established in 19 Olugbor, there were only about 400,000 inhabitants in the city. Part of the challenge of public service delivery stems from the centralization and concentration of public services in certain areas in the city as if there are people in other areas who do not need those services at all. The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all the problems we have is this world. Just take a look at developments in the city and you will realize that so much is done in the Central and West side of the city and very little is done in the East end. The water problem is as difficult as that of health service delivery. One major issue for the Water Ministry if and when there is water, is the kind of pipe they will use to supply the water. It is becoming that rampant that garbage is placed into drainages and when the rain comes it sweeps the garbage down to the drainages by the main roads. Some compounds without toilets even use the gutters as their cesspit. The issue is so complicated and it means diseases will stay with us for a long time. You go to Dove Cot, go through Guard Street and see where our food is sold from. Our women folk walk in muddy dirt, buy from dirty tables or ground in an all-round filthy surrounding. Of course, we can’t talk about flies. They are part of the meat and fish. I once went to the market to buy fish but I could not because when I saw the armies of flies covering the fish I felt too nauseated to buy. Do you know that we have markets that do not have toilets or water? Can we blame disease keeping us company all the time? The Water Ministry needs to do something very fast for the East of Freetown as the dry season is here. Not many households can afford to buy processed sachet water. These drink water from wells, most of which are not treated. So you see why typhoid and other water borne diseases are very common. The Water Ministry needs to sit with other related Ministries in order to solve the water problem in the East once and for all. We can definitely not improve people’s lives without clean drinking water. They say when many trees fall on top of each other and you want to remove the first one that fell, you first of all have to remove the ones on top. This means that other Ministries whose work has to do with lands and streets need to hang heads and give the people in the east their right to live healthy lives.


By Beny Sam

Thursday December 06, 2018.


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