By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya with fellowship from the West Africa Water and Sanitation Journalists Network and partnership from WaterAid, and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
It is the end of the rainy season and the soil keeps drying and water losing on it. This is marking the start of the struggle to get clean and affordable drinking water for communities in remote areas of Sierra Leone. Children and their mothers are greasing up their feet and stretching up their heads to start searching for any source of water they can set eyes on for their domestic uses.
As part of a fellowship from the West Africa Water and Sanitation Journalists Network, I traveled 248km North of Sierra Leone to get an information on how rural communities are coping up to access safe and clean water in their localities. On my arrival at Kamabala in the Tonkoh Limba Chiefdom of Kambia District, the situation is very much appalling seeing community of more than 7000 people struggling to fetch water from a more deplorable water source dug by an 18 year old village boy.
Clean and affordable water is now regarded as a great commodity by the international community. A 2007 statement from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights states that “it is now time to consider access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, defined as the right to equal and non-discriminatory access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses—drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene—to sustain life and health. States should prioritize these personal and domestic uses over other water uses and should take steps to ensure that this sufficient amount is of good quality, affordable for all and can be collected within a reasonable distance from a person’s home.”
The statement above is not the real situation for rural communities in Sierra Leone. The water source for the Kamabala community was dug below the Bamboo canes and located down a hilly route from the village. There is no electricity to help purify water in major provincial communities in the country and digging a well in Bamboo trees like this will certainly help get natural coldness of water for the community. A visit and sit of half an hour made me to see more than 100 women and children struggling to fetch water in the well.
The distance is about 200 meters from the last house in the community and during the raining season, all the debris and filthy including human wastes from the community are transported to this downstream valley. The dung beetles are rolling balls of human feces whilst the flies are dancing around and singing praises to a child who has just deposited some human wastes about 5 feet from the water well.
The local water-village-savior, Sieh M Dumbuya attending the Wesleyan Secondary School, Kamabala has been searching for water points during the past years and “when I discovered that people have started to suffer for clean and affordable water, I came to this water-find which I believe will serve a long way this year” he said. All residents in the Kamabala Community depend on this water for both their drinking and domestic use as confirmed by Sieh and the Chief of the community. Sieh said he dug the well so that he can save the health problem of the community.
A 45 year old Fudia Conteh said “this water source will soon dry up and after such; we will start to fetch water at the tap provided through the assistance of a local NGO in the district.
But all these taps are not reliable for the community. The Banekeh River is dividing Kambia and Bombali Districts and it is also flowing North of Kamabala settlement. When the tap water and some major water source in the community dry up, the only source for the women at the peak of the dry season is to walk a distance of 4km to get water for their homes. “Even if you want to cook or drink, you must walk this distance to get water or else you stay with none” the 45 year old Fudia said. She said “the water is not clean but it is the only source which has been keeping us alive for the past thirty years”.
A 25 year old house wife, Sallaymatu Kargbo also confirmed that there is no other means of getting clean water for the community and because of this situation they must adopt to the water system. They are used to drinking red-dish water in the community with no official health problem reported from them. “We have no way to do” she said.
School going Children in the Kamabala Community will first fetch water for their parents in the morning and probably wash their mouths at the water well before they can think of going for their schooling on week days. If they try to avoid such task for a day, they will be meted with a lesson that they will never forget in their life time. “I fetch water before going to school and after school also” a class 4 school pupil said.
The official service providers for water supply in Sierra Leone are the government owned Guma Valley Water Company in Freetown and the Sierra Leone Water Company (SALWACO) and the Local Councils. With a new decentralization policy, embodied in the Local Government Act of 2004, responsibility for water supply in areas outside the capital city was passed from the central government to local councils.
Official reports at the Sierra Leone Water Company indicates that as of 2012, SALWACO only provides piped water in Lungi in the Port Loko District, Makeni in the Bombali District, Bo and Kenema districts and was in the process of providing for residents in part of Pujehun and Koinadugu Districts. Officials at the SALWACO and Local Council in Kambia out of anonymity revealed that there is yet no ways for providing pipe-borne water in many major towns of Kambia District, not to mention of smaller ones. The Water Company is supposed to transfer water service provision to Local Councils and this has not happened so far because of little capacity to do so.
There are still many people in the world that still do not have sufficient access to safe drinking water. Official United Nations report indicates that about 884 million people don’t have access to clean water of which about 340 million people live in Africa.
Globally and on a daily basis, 200 million hours of women’s time is used in fetching water and official statements indicate that this leaves them extremely vulnerable.
Results also highlight that 3.6 million people die annually from water-related diseases. Sub-Saharan countries only store 4% of their annual renewable flows. Compare to 70-90% in developed countries. In Sierra Leone, the Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma has just separated the Ministry of Energy from the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources to further responsible for water and sanitation policy in the country.
With the unavailability of plastic and bottled water supply in the rural town of Kamabala, it is not yet clear when these rural women will stop drinking red colored water that has great potential of making them and their children get sick.
Besides the fact of the government Sierra Leone’s key and importance role towards ensuring clean and affordable water for its citizens in the country, sons of the soil of Kamabala may come in for assistance towards this trend. The town itself is a producer of prominent descendants presently living in the city with some working and holding vital positions at the University of Sierra Leone and the National Revenue Authority but they hardly come back to the village and help to the water or whatever assistance the Community may need.
Definitely and most certainly, if all these personalities come out and start mobilizing to save their Community, the crisis the Kamabala is facing will obviously be a thing of the past one day and rural women will breathe a sigh of relief.
Written by Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya with fellowship from the West Africa Water and Sanitation Journalists Network and partnership from WaterAid, and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile: +23276897169