Water crisis hits Bo city in Sierra Leone

Mousa E. Massaquoi: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 September 2018:

Lack of access to potable water in the Bo district is not news anymore. For many years, residents have had to learn how to live without clean drinking water. Since the end of the civil war in 2002, many promises were made by both the government as well as NGOs, but access to potable water appears to be actually in decline.

But recently, a new and desperate call is rising up in hope that the new administration and its New Direction, will finally understand that clean water means healthy communities and lower health costs.

Isatu Koroma, a resident of New England, said that everyone is using well water for their daily needs, as well as for drinking.

With a population of over 557,000, Bo is the fourth largest district in the country, according to the Statistics Sierra Leone (SLL) census conducted in 2015.

She further explained that the whole community of more than 500 people has access to only 2 boreholes for water. And during the dry season the water is so muddy that it takes time for all the dirt to settle to the bottom before they can use it to drink. Long queues form around the boreholes each morning, putting significant pressure on the very limited source of water.

“If you are unlucky and the well owners lock access to the water, you have no option but to buy sachets water for drinking and sometimes use swamp water for other domestic needs,” Mrs. Koroma complained.

Borehole owners allow access to water twice a day in order to rationalize and allow water to accumulate.

Out of despair, community members attempted to dig holes with the hope to reach water, but all efforts were in vain. They never reached water and the holes have turned into trash cans.

On May 8, 2017 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) worth $5 million USD was signed between the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) and Saudi Arabia for the development of a water supply project in 77 villages in Bo, Tonkolili, Bombali, Moyamba, Bonthe, Kono and Port Loko.

At the time, the Director General of Sierra Leone Water Company (SALWACO), Mr. Samuel Bangura promised that SALWACO will install 100 boreholes, 100 solar pumps, 100 elevated tanks with storage capacity and the construction of about 100 kilometer pipe network.

But Mrs. Koroma said that to date, she has never seen a government official or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in her community to address the water challenge.

In response to the claims, Engineer Abdul Ben Lebbie at SALWACO acknowledged that the MoU was signed in 2017 with Saudi Arabia, but the funds are yet to be received.

“The MoU is one of our strategies to make sure that by 2030, all men and women have access to clean and safe drinking water. That is the reason [why] the new Minister of Water Resources, Dr. Jonathan Tengbeh is very robust in seeking funds to make sure that each and every community in Sierra Leone has access to potable, clean and safe drinking water,” he assured. (Photo: Dr Tengbe).

Mr. Lebbie added that another water project is currently ongoing.  The first phase of the Three-Town Water Project, initiated by the previous government for Kenema, Makeni and Bo, has been completed and 40% of the residents of Bo Township should have access to water.

He explained that initially, new communities like New England and others were not in existence at the time the project was launched but said SALWACO is working to fix the problem.

“What we are currently doing is that we are expanding on our distribution network to make sure people in those new communities have access to pipe borne water system and the project is ongoing and by March next year, it will be completed,” he assured.

Before becoming a water lord, Adama Fofana covered long distance to fetch water and built her house. The agonizing pain determined her to invest in a proper borehole, which she now owns. Soon after, the entire community rushed to her borehole, so Mrs. Fofana took her project a step further. She sealed the well walls with cement and added chlorine so that people can drink cleaner water.

“Initially, we were not using the water for drinking, but when I saw that the people were straining to fetch water I decided to purify it. After draining the water, I added chlorine to kill the germs and the water was fit for drinking,” Mrs. Fofana said.

She opens her well for water access from 6:30am to noon, and two additional hours in the evening. During the rest of the time, she keeps her well under lock, to protect it from abuse by children who are not trained on how to properly and safely use it.

Mrs. Fofana does not charge for access to water. She also agreed that she has never seen a government official in her community to speak about the water.

Abass Kalokoh, has a private business at Fenton Road, but is well aware of the water crisis. He can’t remember seeing water coming out of the tap in the past years. In his community, called New Site, people drink from boreholes too.

He recalls that the previous government had a water project for Bo, but the mosque where he performs his prayers was asked by SALWACO to pay between 600 and 800 thousand Leones per month which he said was way above their financial possibilities.

“Most of us could not afford to pay,” he said with considerable sadness. As a result of the high cost, people reverted to the boreholes and water pumps which brave the health risks.

Lack of access to water comes with multiple risks. One of these is teenage pregnancy and rape. Kalokoh said that he learned of several cases in which young girls were victimized on the way to fetch water. “We are blessed we were not hit by cholera yet,” he stated.

Kalokoh wanted to remind the Bio government that the people voted him in hopes that he will address their immediate basic needs. Kalokoh warned that any government that fails to fulfill this basic need will be voted out.

The Commercial and Customer Care manager at SALWACO, Mr. Carl explained that price of water ranges from Le200 per jerry can (5 gallon), Le3, 428 per cubic meter of water at the stand pipe (street pump), Le5,740 for domestic pump per month, Le7,452 for institutional pumps per month, Le11, 428 per month for businesses, Le50,000  for a non-metered pump and Le57,711 for water parking per month.

“All that customers need to do is to go to SALWACO office in Bo and collect connection form, fill in the form and the company will do survey at their places to see what they will be needed for the connection and from there they pay the connection fees then they will get connected,” Mr, Lebbie said.

Meanwhile, the SLPP manifesto acknowledged that access to safe drinking water is more a human right today than ever before. Improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation promotes good health and reduces mortality rates while reducing teenage female pregnancy and school dropout rates.

To address these challenges in the rural communities, the SLPP government promised to construct boreholes, gravity water systems and solar water pumping schemes attached to shallow water wells in all villages, develop the capacity of Local Councils to effectively handle water supply issues in provincial areas.

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