Over a year ago I got so scared of earthquakes and tsunamis that I wrote the article We against Nature with the hope of contributing to the worldwide debate on climate change and all its threats to humanity in general. The major world But oh the worst disasters have so far been happening in far away countries with some how the wherewithal to handle them unless us here where a heavy breeze that kills scores of bats at the Cotton Tree is sure to make the headlines in our over 40 newspapers in the city. We have been so concerned lately by some strange weeds now dictating the flora of our beaches. Even the President visited to see for himself. Well hot on the heels of the weeds is the scare over water shortage or can we just say water mismanagement? You see why politics is hard to practice out here? It is simply because almost all our needs are priorities that are linked directly to our survival as God’s beautiful people. Can’t you get it? Sometimes we are so unreasonable with our leaders because we think they all have magic wands to solve all our problems in one stroke.
By the end of 2007 it appeared most Sierra Leoneans agreed with the President that electricity was indeed a priority and the electricity got improved to the pleasure of all, especially Freetownians. To give it some political will back-up the Ministry was even renamed Energy and Water Resources. With Freetown’s population passing the 2 million mark amenities are just not enough to service even two thirds of the population. Let me tell you our real problem is not that Guma is unable to give us enough water; I think our real problem is that the populations in the cities keep soaring at alarming proportions. Even when Guma completes the projects it has ongoing there will be other problems of water management. When you move around the City, especially in the East end you see so many cut pipes that sprout out the much needed water and it is wasted in careless abandon. Of course these days we find the pipes actually lying at the beds of the gutters, what you might want to call drainages. Now we are blaming Guma for bad/dirty water, but actually the water gets contaminated anyway, knowing the kind of dirt we throw into gutters where our burst pipes are left fending for themselves. Do you see why typhoid has become a permanent member of our illness menu?
I have been thinking, how about somehow decentralizing this whole water system, so that each administrative area in the City can actually take care of its water resources. When you consider that water is also a governance issue, then the role of the Local Councils come in handy. Please do not tell me they are already overburdened. Hell No! One big hurdle we need to overcome is overconcentration and over centralization. We all know how tricky and difficult devolution has been over the years. We are having reports of good performance in some Councils and this is definitely good news. We need to build on this and in the end we might not have to blame the Central Government for every little slip here and there.
Local governance should be positioned enough to deliver services and meet objectives. Normally the greater the extent of decentralization, the more developed and democratic Local governance frameworks is likely to be. Water should form part of governance in order to highlight the set of systems that control decision-making with regards to water management and water service delivery. Just a couple of days ago some international authority was warning of acute water shortage in 20 years time. Well in a limited way, the problem is already here sitting squarely on our laps. The mismanagement of water is often characterized by lack of adequate water institutions, conflicting and competing interests amongst water users and weak decision- making structures. Water management systems need to ensure public participation. In a situation where the requirements for water are greater than the available water, there are no transparent strategies for water allocation to achieve equity. An integrated development can hardly leave out water governance.
What seems to be lacking in a very conspicuous way is advocacy and communication to promote water services. Users of this resource need to know exactly the need for it and also the processes water goes through before it gets to the domestic consumer. Water is God’s gift to man but it needs a lot of care and protection for it to stay pure. As for the scarcity, we have close to five to six months of rain every year, but we are sooner than later short of water. I wonder what countries in the desert do, that we cannot do ten times over to ensure water is always available. Water is a resource the use of which transcends every class or affluence. We badly need it on a daily basis for us to stay alive and healthy. To have a sustainable service provision, conscious efforts have to be made to make water management a governance issue. Clear regulations governing water should be drawn. Policies and bye-laws should be in place and enforced.
This idea of everybody becoming a plumber, cutting pipes here and there should be stopped and made punishable by law. The policies and laws have to be good enough. Water sources need to be protected against exploitation. Water users should be made to participate in a climate of trust where water management is concerned. Water needs to be considered as key to development. Everybody says water is life, but they hardly treat it as if indeed it is life. To a large extent also water issues are also issues of rights. Take the situation in Somalia where drought has caused tens of thousands of people to flee to Kenya, a walk that is leaving behind untold deaths of mainly children. Those poor children who are dying in the camps in Kenya have overpopulated Refugee camps have every right to live! When one considers that in times of crisis and emergencies, it is more women and children that bear the brunt, then it stands to reason for adequate provisions to be made for especially this category of the population. Look at the story of that Somalian woman who had to leave her child at the roadside because she could not carry two of them as she got tired on the long and hazardous journey to the refugee camp in Kenya.
Somalia is now being seen as the canter of the climate change effects. Somalia is reported to have gone without rainfall for two years running. What lessons do we as Sierra Leoneans do we learn here? We get enough rainfall at least five to six months in the year and yet we have water shortages. Can this be really fair? Are we not making mockery of the blessing that we have as a nation? Even as I write we are having impasses between people over the movement of dirt from one compound to another through drainages that are not properly kept. Could we have preferred no rain at all? Up country, in some places we hear of flooding that affect villages. Is it not high time that expert advice on the location of our towns and villages. Definitely some of the destruction of properties due to flooding could be avoided if proper observations are done before settlements are established.
Over the weekend I listened to a local FM station that discussed issues around the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources. They spoke of so called cabals at that Ministry allegedly fighting hard to make every action of the other counter- productive. Whether this is affecting the electricity and water supplies, one needs to know. But better still relevant authorities need to seriously look into the issues there and arrive at some resolution. Salone is indeed a small country that is supposed to be easier to manage than many other ones out there. That FM station also alleged that a whooping sum of Le 35 billion provided for improving water service is yet to be accounted for. I really think the main problem with us is that we do not communicate at the right time…we wait for issues to be raised and then we react, we rather prefer to be reactive rather than be proactive. This breeds animosities and does not make for conducive co-existence between demand and supply sectors. Right now we should be strategizing as to how to export our rain water that carelessly wastes without being adequately utilized. Don’t you see how blest we are over here?
By S. Beny SAM