Counting the cost of buying safe drinking water in Freetown

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 November 2020:

Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of rainfall in Africa yet over two-thirds of rhe population are struggling to access safe, clean drinikng water, especially in the dry season.

In the capital – Freetown, many rely on water being sold in jerry cans through a bowser service at a very high cost, whilst those households that are connected to the Gumma Valley Water grid directly, are paying very little.

The Residential Tariff  – price of water, approved by Regulators for the Guma Valley Water Company (GVWC) is 2,500 Leones per cubic meter, and the Bowser Service tariff is 400,000.00 Leones – 40 Leones per litre for residential customers and 500,000.00 Leones – 50 Leones per litre for commercial customers.

GVWC on the other hand, sells water to operators in bulk at a subsidized rate of 150,000.00 Leones per 10,000 litres which is equivalent to about 15 Leones per litre. The operators in turn sell the GVWC water to customers at 25 Leones per litre.

Some operators pay a flat fee of  250,000.00 Leones a month to GVWC for extracting water from boreholes and they in turn sell to consumers at a tariff of 500.00 Leones for 60 litres – which is  12 Leones 50 Cents per litre.

There is a category of operators who are taking part in a pilot scheme in which water is being delivered to large tanks that will be metered in specific locations. The proposed tariff for water sold in this way to customers will be 1000.00 Leone per 60 litres, or 16 Leones 70 Cents per litre.

It is clear that the entry of water operators in the water supply market without the regulatory and technical input of the Regulators, has made water tariffs – the price of drinking and cooking water – significantly higher for the very poor whose homes are not connected to the GVWC pipes, than those residential customers that are connected to the system.

Water4ever – a private water company that has been operating in the Waterloo community for five  years and has been selling water by jerry can for 250 Leones per Jerry can, says it is now forced to sell at a higher price because of its contractual agreement with GVWC, which makes drinking water unaffordable for the those living in the poorer communities of Freetown.

What this means is that residential customers are paying 2 Leones 50 cents per litre for water delivered directly to their homes, whilst the poor who buy their water at the water kiosks are paying a whopping 16 Leones per litre to survive.

Perhaps there could be light at the end of the tunnel for the poorer communities, as the Water Regulators are now calling on all  water operators to apply for “tariff approval” to the Commission, who says it will conduct a thorough “cost of service review” to ensure fairness and equity in the sale of what many consider to be God’s given natural resource – water.


  1. Salieu Bah, thank you for the information. You see, the difference between Rwanda and Namibia on the one hand and Sierra Leone on the other is that the former are led by patriots with infinite positive ambitions for their respective countries, while the latter is led by crooks and well trained thieves who could not care less about the welfare of their people. This has been the case since we gained our independence in 1961. Of course the exceptions will always be Sir Milton Margai with President Kabba coming a distant second. One may also add the military leader Andrew Juxon-Smith who was the no-nonsense type; civil servants were more scared of him than death. These are the true leaders we have had since our botched attempt at independence.

    Surely the star of African leaders has to be Paul Kagame of Rwanda. He continues to retrieve his nation from the ashes of the genocide of 1994 to the point now where foreign investors have enough confidence in the country, for them to bring their money in. Our Bio travels the length and breath of the world on the mistaken and misplaced belief that rhetoric alone would persuade investors to part with their money to a country where they cannot have baths, because there is no water. And what is electricity?

    We have an extremely progressive Mayor – Yvonne Aki-Sawyer – who wants to transform Freetown to a modern city of which we can all be proud, but the support from the central government is at best lukewarm, a government dominated by doctorate degree holders. They may be academically brilliant but I won’t have them as supervisors to clean up a gutter.

    Earnest Koroma was in Windhoek earlier in the year as part of an African observer team for general elections. I wonder whether what he saw did not shame him. He had left filthy streets behind in Freetown and people scrambling all over the place to get a bucket of water. History won’t be kind to him.

  2. Water is life. Sometimes I wonder, if the successive administrations in governance, have national development priorities or just simply misplaced priorities. It is difficult for me to understand what’s done tangibly, with the multi billions of borrowed international money; multi trillions of Leones from the national revenue collection, including the multi million dollars from the exports of mineral resources, when the country remains largely dark, lacking a basic necessity of life, the supply of good drinking water to the citizens.

    Why this isn’t even considered a national urgency worthy of a modicum of investing into, speaks to the nature of these governments and the respect they have for the humanity of the people. Water supply provision in any country is a necessity second to no other. As a country, Sierra Leone is blessed. Nature has been on our side in a big way. The country is not short of fresh water rivers, swamps, ponds, creeks, spring water falls, you name it, we have in abundance. We are short of leaders with big hearts. It should not have been a far-fetched idea or too difficult an accomplishment, if the supply of good drinking water in every household, has been factored in the priority calculus of successive governments.

    So far the evidence is, they did not and still have not done this in any meaningful way. The question now is, how long will these governments take all these hard foreign currency debts in our names? Generations yet unborn will have to pay back these debts, yet they are living in a country, deliberately so, lacking the very basics of life; this will be the height of selfishness. Posterity will never ignore this utter wickedness. The country has been losing too many lives to water borne diseases, such like cholera, typhoid fever, malaria, hepatitis A etc, due to drinking contaminated water, while successive administrations have unconscionably, focused the borrowed money on prestigious construction projects. These projects are about their own personal agendas and ignoring shamefully the reality of lack of pipe borne water and electricity in the country. Water and electricity supply are necessities of life.

  3. “Water,water everywhere and not even a drop top drink;” Those are the heartbreaking words of the renowned English Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge from his famous poem (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) Indeed to be surrounded by water and still die of thirst is the worst kind of curse that anyone should have to endure.Water,water everywhere in Sierra Leone,my only home wasting away – Water from heavy rainfalls,overflowing oceans,ceaseless streams and pristine rivers,yet sadly not even a drop anywhere to drink.

    Oh mercy,mercy me! Water,water everywhere yet these dummies with huge tummies have not the slightest idea that harvesting rainfall in massive cisterns for the purposes of meeting water needs throughout seasonal variations could be a viable life-saving option that solves all our urgent water needs.The old unmindful guard have failed Africa miserably,its time for a new generation of young,visionary leaders to assume the reins of power all across the African continent.

    I mean seriously lets call a spade a spade,the educated elite in Sierra Leone are hopelessly incompetent uncreative and uninspiring.Whats the point of having a government with doctorate degree holders that cannot take care of the basic needs of its people? And these criminals are out there,building mansions with marble floors with no running water and they are proud of it.(lol)The SLPP are totally contented and at ease with having water stored to the brim in filthy buckets and drums inside schools,hospitals and government offices; Go Figure! (lol) Folks, we must strive very hard to find a new word to describe their perplexing inadequacies – “INCOMPETENT” just will not suffice.(lol)

  4. Mr. Salieu Bah seems to be speaking based on his lifetime experience of living in normal African countries where the government is serious about the well-being of their citizens. The example you gave instead of the USA or Western Europe is spot on, because if Namibia which is 70% arid, (thanks for educating me) can boast of sustainable water infrastructure and water supply. Why not Sierra Leone that always experiences one of the highest rainfall in our region that usually causes damages every year still facing water problem? The simple answer in my opinion is, lack of love, empathy and dishonesty from our leaders. Finally, I hope and pray that within the first term of the direction government, they will supply all government buildings with pipe running water from the GVWC.

  5. The problem of pipe borne water supply is another damning evidence of how low the nation has sunk since our so-called independence. For those of us who are immersed in the country’s contemporary history, the story is a long one. But suffice to say that the handicapping of our dear country started in 1968 – 52 years ago – when APC swept to power under Siaka Stevens. I leave the rest of the story to be contrived by others.

    Successive leaders have woefully failed the nation. Rather than paying attention to the infrastructural development of the nation, they have instead been gazing at how to enrich themselves on the backs of the poor, mercilessly converting the country’s natural wealth to their personal use. It is impossible to tell whether they have a conscience. Thanks to the Almighty Allah/God that He juxtaposed life with old age and death.

    For a country to never have experienced drought and still struggle with providing pipe borne water is a melancholic stigma, a stigma which should reduce us to tears, shame and embarrassment. We are a laughing stock. We never gained any independence. We have been deluding ourselves for sixty years.

    Why should we expect SLPP and APC to think of our welfare when upon all the misery they continue to inflict upon us, we still go out and dance for them? The slaves dancing for slavery. The Commissions of Inquiry revealed so much of the dastardly corruption which Ernest and his gang of criminals engaged in, thereby thwarting the nation’s development, but, idiotically, people still support them. These are the people who cannot have a decent bath because of lack of water.

    Currently we have millions going missing at government institutions, millions that can be used for the nation to have clean drinking water. In just under three years time SLPP will still want to retain the presidency while APC will try to remove them, to start off where they left off in 2018. As a people when will we knock sense into our heads and vote in NGC or another party if just for the sake of it. They may turn out to be little devils too, but we will have the satisfaction of having tried something different.

  6. My concern is the proliferation of water companies who produce sachets of water. Apparently there is no regulation or monitoring as to the purity of water being sold. I know for sure that some people just fill the packets direct from the tap with no filtration or cleansing process. Another company called Diamond Waters dug a well close to the stream at Angola town and that is what is being sold as pure water. It’s criminal.

  7. Sierra Leone is blessed with everything that nature has to offer. We have one of the highest annual rainfalls in West Africa, whilst the majority of African countries experience draught and famine and in some cases goes on for years without any rainfall. Sierra Leone can count itself lucky as one of few African countries that never has to go through that nightmare. Our country is not in the middle of the Sahara desert, where large populations ration water as a way of life. The only thing we have of course are politicians who lack any sense of purpose and direction. They cannot think outside the box. What is the point of buying SUVs, whilst your government cannot provide safe drinking water for the residents of Freetown, never mind the rest of the country.

    Our politicians are not capable of thinking outside the box. Their priorities is always geared to satisfy their own selfish needs rather than the people that elect them. Water, water, is everywhere, but where is the safe drinking water? Unsafe drinking water is the leading risk factor for the cause of death, hunger and undernourishment in children, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio and also the leading cause of childhood stunting. Freetown is not the size of a small city in the United States, but sometimes you scratch your head and ask, why even a small-time Mayor in America is capable of doing his job and better than president Bio and his government? Why can’t we get things right in our country?

  8. It is a shame that successive governments have failed to provide this basic but one of the most important services to its citizens. I was reassigned to Windhoek Namibia four months ago. Amazingly I have never ran out of water even though Namibia is 70% arid. People say Kigali is the cleanest city. This I do not want to take away from them. But believe you me, Windhoek is better cleaned than London, den Haag, Stockholm, Brussels and berlins. What a feat for an Africa country.

    Sierra Leonean voters should denied votes to all who fail to give them this singular Human entitlement, that is clean and affordable drinking water that they can fetch from thier homes without undue sufferings. Stop playing lip services to our people – is my plea to politicians and administrators

  9. The major problem in Sierra Leone is not water shortage but poor water infrastructure. I was even surprised to know that even the presidential lodge at Hill Station had no pipe running water from the GVWC. I do not know if that has changed within the past two years, but I used to see bowsers from the Country Lodge Hotel supply water every week to the residence of our President which was a shame in my opinion. The unfortunate thing is, the mindset of most Sierra Leoneans is that water supposed to be free of charge which is unrealistic in any part of the world. Even in the USA and Europe, water bill is a reality and we even purchase bottled water from grocery stores every week because subconsciously, we believe tap water is only meant for cooking, washing and cleaning.

    I recently read an article that the New Direction government has secured a loan of over $40 million for the rehabilitation of the water infrastructure within Freetown. I hope and pray that will help improve the water situation. On a brighter note, it seems that the Energy Minister Mr. Kanja Sesay is doing a good job based on the fact that the people of Freetown are enjoying constant electricity supply, although there are still serious challenges about the fluctuation of voltage which usually damages bulbs and appliances. If Freetown and all provincial headquarters can once again boast of sustainable water and electricity, then our beloved country will once again be described as “Paradise on Earth”.

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