Barton Cole: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 July 2019:
It’s difficult for people who have never had to contend with having no access to treated water to imagine a city running dry. I have been called a doom monger and an alarmist for calling attention to just that.
Yesterday, I heard an announcement on the radio stating that the discoloured water being supplied by Guma in Freetown, was due to the low level of water in the dam. I heard them say it was safe to drink because it had been treated according to all WHO standards.
I got further explanations about how the chlorine content had been increased. Yet in all of this, only one thing struck me: We are almost in the middle of July and the water level in the Guma dam is already low.
I have had discussions with people, and the impression I take away is that we have always had rains and so they will never fail. This is in spite of the dwindling rainfall we are experiencing which is getting worse every year.
Guma dam is spilling later and later every year. Wells are drying up earlier and earlier every year. The warning signs are here and we don’t want to seem to heed them.
The last government saw uncontrolled logging as a viable source of income. The current government also sees controlled logging as a viable source of income. My worry is, how good is the control and how fast are trees being planted to reforest the areas being decimated.
I am going to lay out the worst case scenario so those who want to bury their heads in the sand cannot. Worst case scenario is that the rainy season one year is delayed or the rains so poor that Guma dam doesn’t spill. Rationing starts taking place.
That means cutting of pipes will not yield water. Rivers are already under threat and will not yield water for the masses. Wells will become stretched and dry up even faster than normal as the water table lowers. Citizens become increasingly desperate in their search for water and law and order suffers. The sachets of water that so many drink become scarcer as Guma reduces supply to those companies.
Sounds like a scene from a movie but it is an all too possible future for us if we do not wake from our slumber.
Mr President, can you imagine trying to implement your development plans in such a scenario? What do you think people will do if they see a bowser of water passing in their parched area to supply those in power?
You have the power to start measures to ensure that such a scenario never occurs. There are brilliant engineers at Guma, headed by Ing. Maada Kpenge who I am sure can come up with much better and more detailed ideas than I ever could. But this is my appeal to you:
- Institute an environmental emergency.
- Stop all logging across the country and have the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry do a complete survey of what is left of our forest cover.
- Stop issuing building permits for new homes on the western area peninsular. Every application must be treated as a special case where the impact on the environment has to be studied.
- Institute an aggressive reforestation and afforestation program that will see massive swathes of now stripped lands covered in fast growing trees.
- Create reservoirs and mounted tanks across Freetown to be filled during the rains to reduce the demand on the dam itself during the rains.
- Reduce the tariff on imports of roof gutters tanks etc and issue tax breaks to producers of those items.
- Encourage water harvesting by instituting a system of reductions in city rates for those who harvest water above a certain threshold.
- Accelerate plans to have a secondary water supply for Freetown and ensure that the capacity is at least 3 or 4 times what is needed at present. That is how we can build buffers for poor rains.
- Overhaul the existing pipe network by asking those in a ward or area to pay for submains and all other pipes leading to their houses, to be deducted from future bills.
- Institute aggressive metering of all connections, ensuring that every home has a meter and remove street taps.