Freetown faces impending doom if water crisis is not sorted

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:

  1. Institute an environmental emergency.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Institute an aggressive reforestation and afforestation program that will see massive swathes of now stripped lands covered in fast growing trees.
  5. Create reservoirs and mounted tanks across Freetown to be filled during the rains to reduce the demand on the dam itself during the rains.
  6. Reduce the tariff on imports of roof gutters tanks etc and issue tax breaks to producers of those items.
  7. Encourage water harvesting by instituting a system of reductions in city rates for those who harvest water above a certain threshold.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Institute aggressive metering of all connections, ensuring that every home has a meter and remove street taps.


  1. This water scarcity is well-founded. Already we are having lots of problems with accessing water including water wastage. If it is bad now, imagine what will happen in 20 years time if a halt is not placed on deforestation, if we do not optimise our existing dams and create new ones.

    As for Ibrahim Bah, he could not care less about the future of water supply in Freetown. He knows that when things become bad in Freetown, he will be off like a shot to Conakry.

  2. Thanks Mr Cole,for your thoughtful advice,insights,and practical warnings. I am an ardent, unremorseful environmentalist at heart,and I would go to the ends of the Earth to keep our planet safe,secure, and clean from pollution,and the harmful effects of Commercial deforestation.

    You don’t have to be a Climatologist to be able to know that the loss of trees,and vegetation are the highest adverse contributors to our worlds daunting environmental challenges,with regards to Climate change,soil,erosion,flooding,and scarcity of rainfalls.

    However,economic water scarcity is not a new thing. It is a dilemma being experienced by a quarter of the world’s current population.Freetown is no different. It is overpopulated,and carefully needs to be reorganised;and we will need to find a way of getting lots of people to be relocated out of the Capital city to urban areas,and a little further from its outskirts, boundaries, and surrounding areas.

    Restructuring will help ease,and reduce the constant demands for water,and sensible improvements in infrastructures for the purposes of facilitating,and granting easy access,to communities in search of diverse water sources – ponds,rivers,and streams,will be of added, and great value.

    And although,I may not agree with Mr Bah on this issue,I believe he has a right to express his heartfelt opinions irrespective of what, and how others may think,and feel. Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  3. Good advice to Government. Concerns raised are well in place. People like Mr Bah have very low IQ but unfortunately they are in the majority in this Country.

  4. Thanks Mr. Barton Cole for your insight and proposals on this water shortage issue. If the ministry in charge is serious about solving this problem, it will be done quickly and easy.

    The government should just construct/build RIVER WATER PURIFICATION PLANTS on the banks of the SELI RIVER. PERIOD! Once that is achieved, they can trigger in MOBILE DRINKING WATER PLANTS to help the inhabitants of the city. Such projects are not difficult to be done in Sierra Leone and are not that expensive. Believe me.

    The SELI RIVER is not as polluted as other rivers in the world were river water purification systems are used. So, filtration will not be a difficult task.

    Such plants could be easily maintained and repaired by Sierra Leonean technicians which is another advantage. Six months training will be enough.

    I would like the Minister in charge of our water resources to consider RIVER WATER PURIFICATION SYSTEMS to help with this issue. Very easy. They can ask the Chinese for help because they have loads of these systems.

    Finally, the Guma Dam was not built to cater for the present overpopulation of Freetown. Also, with Global warming, evaporation is adding to the lowering of the water level, which will be a disaster if alternative water systems are not put in place. However, thanks Mr. Barton Cole for your insight and suggestions and may GOD BLESS YOU.

  5. What an idea; I think Mr Cole you study your law in england? I think so, because people like you dont care for the developement of our city FREETOWN. I think everybody has the right to obtain a permit to build where ever he or she like to build. Let us join hands together to build back Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone needs big investors to end the poverty, after long suffering. So we don’t need this type of ideas. LETS BUILD BACK SIERRA LEONE.

    • Great article but unfortunately, because of people like Mr Ibrahim Bah and their opinion that they have the right to do everything Salone will always suffer.

    • This kind of response to his article is exactly why Sierra Leone is doomed. You clearly can’t see the woods for the trees.
      God help us all from such ignorance.

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