By Mustapha Sesay, WASH Journalists Network S/L
Whilst our politicians are busy with sugar coated words on improving the water sector, the actual picture on the ground about water service delivery in the capital is bleak and until urgent measures are put in place, the city will one day wake up to find that all the taps have finally run dry.
Making an on the spot visit to the various dams and treatment sites that provide drinking water to the capital city and its environs by a team of Civil Society Advocacy Network on Climate Change (CAW-SL) headed by Charles Mambu, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), staff of the Water Sector and the Media on 13/3/2014, one was astonished to find massive deforestation along the catchment areas, encroachment on the land for construction of houses and mining activities, pollution and the drying up of the sugar loaf dam – signals that the water sector is in a bad state.
Even though staff of the Guma Valley Water Company are advancing excuses that the dam was built a hundred years ago for a population of five hundred people, there are reasons for putting strategies in place to cater for the growing population.
The road network to the various dams and water treatment plants are not only steep and rugged but a death trap to most vehicles.
It must be noted that the ecosystem and the biodiversity in the Freetown Peninsular are vanishing at an alarming rate. This is mainly due to the uncontrolled and uncoordinated human activities in the Peninsular. Such activities include the use of the power saw machines for the cutting of trees and other vegetation around the demarcated forest reserves. the burning of wood for charcoal, construction of dwelling places, illegal sale of land, and mining construction at quarries by multi national companies.
The ability of the water agencies to continue supplying water is seriously undermined as a result of the exposure of the water dam to direct sunlight; this in return is a serious threat to the supply of water to the growing population in the city and its environs
At the Guma Valley catchment sites, the dam that supplies most areas in the city of Freetown, the old pipes directly linking the city with water services are not only old and exposed to rust but now subjected to wild bush fires ignited by those clearing the encroached land for various construction purposes.
Just by the gate, most of the areas have been cleared for vegetable garden and fire wood.
At the actual dam sites there is a drop in the water level.
Upon investigation, neither the staff of the water company, Lands officials nor the Foresters were in a position to state who was actually responsible for the deforestation or encroached of the catchment areas.
At the Babadorie dam at Hill Station that supplies water to the Mountain Rural areas and some parts of the west end of the city and Pademba Road, the situation is very alarming as the dam is not only unprotected but partly dried up.
I was informed by staff of the water company that before now two dams, namely the Tacugama Dam and the Sugar Loaf, have been supplying water to the Babadorie treatment plant for the Mountain Road areas.
Today, the Sugar Loaf Dam is dried up and even the Tacugama Dam is supplying water at snail’s pace, resulting in a drastic drop in the supply of water to the mountain rural areas and most areas in the city
The structures and ashes from the massive bushfires around the dams and treatment plants are dangerous to the survival of the plant.
There is all the possibility for the houses overlooking the dam at Babadorie easy to contaminate the water as a result of the poor sewage facilities closely built to the dam.
Though staff of the water company are very quick to tell the public that plans are on the way to very soon construct new dams to address the poor water service delivery in the city that is almost housing two million people, the proposed site is currently facing challenges of encroachment and the building of houses.
One thing that stands out clearly in all this is that the masses continue to be denied access to affordable and quality drinking water while the wealthy and highly placed in the society continue to receive supplies of water from the Guma Valley Buzzers.
To the encroachers what matters is getting land at all cost and depriving the majority from getting water by building around the catchment areas.
At the Tacugama dam at Regent – Grafton, poor road network has isolated this area exposing it to all forms of activities that are drying up the dam at an alarming rate.
If with what is ongoing in the wetlands and catchment areas are not of concern to the water ministry.
Today our water sector continues to be in a state of Coma as a result of the following challenges.
Stakeholders in this sector are not in a position to give the actual picture of the demise of our water service delivered to the masses, more so when such places are isolated and dangerous places.
Their messages are always “we will soon improve on the water service delivery as we have signed contracts with partners”.
There is a lack of coordination among the staff of the water sector, foresters, lands and security agencies in protecting the catchments and land around the dams. As a result of this, influential personalities are using this opportunity to grab land indiscriminately.
It is very difficult to see demarcated zone in these places. Punitive measures have not been instituted like the demolishing of structures or the imposition of heavy fines as a deterrent to others.
If we are to see a remedy of this dismal situation the following must now be put in place.
The security officers operating in these areas must be increased and empowered to arrest all those engaged in illegal activities.
There should be mass demolition of all houses around the catchment and forest reserved areas.
The officials of the water sector must give out regularly the correct picture of the status of the water system to the public.
There should also be massive education of the public on the adverse effects of encroachment and deforestation of our reserved forest areas and wetlands.
If Freetown is to address the issue of water scarcity, it is now time to protect and preserve our water catchment areas, construct new dams and embark on massive awareness campaign on the effects of man’s activities on the environment.