Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 June 2018:
Sierra Leone is one of the wettest countries in the world with more rainfall in just six months than many countries would experience in a decade. Yet, successive governments have found it difficult to harness the rainfall for the survival of its people, especially in the capital Freetown.
The country’s waterways and rivers are facing some of the most challenging environmental threats caused by human activity and lack of government control, as forests and swathes of eco-systems are being destroyed to make way for human settlements.
The Guma Valley Dam in Freetown which is the main source of drinking water for over two million people, has not only exceeded its capacity to deliver clean water across the city, but needs massive investment for structural improvement.
Water distribution pipes traversing the length and breadth of the city are now corroded and in need of replacement, with underground and surface leaks accounting for over 60% loss of water.
Something must be done and fast, if the government is to address the perennial problem of water shortage across the country, where less than 40% of households have access to clean, safe drinking water.
The newly elected government of president Julius Maada Bio is facing serious financial difficulties, with huge foreign and domestic debt incurred by the former Koroma government as well as its mismanagement of the economy, crippling the current government’s ability to raise funds for much needed services., including water and electricity.
In December 2017, the IMF cancelled its loan agreement it had signed with the Koroma government, because of corruption, mismanagement of public funds and inability to generate revenue.
As we go to press, most communities in the far eastern district of Freetown have had no water supply for over four days.
According to a statement issued today by the government, the new Minister of Water Resources – Hon Dr. Jonathan Bonopha Tengbe, has wasted no time knocking on the right doors in sourcing much-needed support for improving water supply in the country.
Barely six weeks into office, Minister Tengbe jetted out to the Republic of Tajikistan (Asia), where he participated in a three-day (20-22 June 2018) High-Level International Conference on: “International Decade for Action – Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028”.
The conference, with over 1,000 participants from up to 150 countries, was organized jointly by the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan, the United Nations, and other partners.
In September 2015 the UN General Assembly proclaimed an overarching resolution: “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “.
As part of this resolution, the Assembly adopted Sustainable Goal No. 6 as: “Clean Water and Sanitation”, dedicated solely to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
The Republic of Tajikistan has since been one of the leading countries in expanding international cooperation and capacity building to support developing countries, such as Sierra Leone, for the implementation of the above Sustainable Development goal.
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Water Resources – Jonathan Tengbe was invited to represent the Republic of Sierra Leone at the conference, where he presented a paper entitled: “WATER IS LIFE: The State of Water Supply in Sierra Leone – Challenges and Opportunities”.
Minister Tengbe highlighted three key areas: Brief background on the water situation; Key Challenges; and Key Opportunities.
On the background situation, Dr. Tengbe was very emphatic and unapologetic when he pointed out, among others, some disturbing aspects of water situation in Sierra Leone. He said that: “Currently less than half of the population have access to safe drinking water”; and that; “Population growth has led to demand side outweighing supply side, leading to immense pressure on the government to address the situation”.
Addressing the key challenges currently facing the water situation in Sierra Leone, the Minster pointed out that: “Low central government allocations to fund major water infrastructure Projects would not increase access to potable water”; and, “a relatively new Ministry with lots of capacity gaps in terms of human resource, logistical, materials, and equipment”.
On the issue of key opportunities, Dr. Tengbe highlighted “Plans to reform the sector through unbundling of water generated from water supply; the enactment into law of the National Water Resources Management Agency; Government Policy to encourage Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the construction of major water supply projects especially in urban areas where market potential do exist; and enhancing capacities through setting up a National Training Centre, formulating curricular for water engineers and promoting graduate degree in Water Engineering at the University of Sierra Leone.”
Minister Tengbe told the conference that with political leadership, international cooperation and support such as the conference under review, he was confident that the water-related Sustainable Development Goals are achievable and that the water-related challenges in Sierra Leone can also be addressed.
It is estimated that Sierra Leone needs at least $600 Million to rehabilitate Guma Valley, as well as develop sustainable water systems across the country to meet the needs of the current 7 million population.