|City dwellers battling for water|
With the city’s endemically insufficient potable water supply, especially in thickly populated unplanned settlements with wrecked sanitary infrastructure, drinking tap water could be the speediest and easiest route to the grave.
In such areas, seepages and spillovers from pit latrines and septic tanks have contaminated the water table, which supplies wells and streams. The vulnerability of these precarious zones to flooding puts the rapidly growing population of the urban poor at great risk.
The lesions left behind by a cholera outbreak, which took Yaoundé unawares in early 2011 and rapidly snowballed in just two months leaving more than 250 persons dead in its wake, may have healed. But the scars left behind, coupled with the still disappointing potable water supply, are stark indicators that the monster could re-emerge. Unusually protracted rainfall that year submerged huge swathes of the city in floodwaters which authorities said had polluted drinking water from wells, especially in slums.
Today, not even pipe borne water, once seen as the lone reliable source of drinking water, is trusted by city dwellers.
“I no longer drink tap water,” says Christopher Kimbi, a disillusioned Yaoundé resident living in the Ngousso neighbourhood. “It does not possess the qualities we were taught in primary school that potable water should have.” He also went on to add that “Tap water here is not only dirty, it has a taste”.
Miles away in Ngoa-Ekelle, another dweller in the capital city, Emmanuel Ngenge, is trying hard to wade through the water hurdle. He has devised a mechanism to filter the reddish tap water before drinking. Emmanuel’s device is rudimentary: a used plastic bottle he has cut in the middle. The lower part is discarded; he inverts the upper part and uses it as a funnel. The impure water is then decanted through the funnel into another container, with a thick ball of cotton stuck into its neck to hold back impurities. The ‘filtered’ water does not lose all its redness but is now ‘fit’ for drinking.
Ngenge is one among thousands of Yaoundé inhabitants who because they cannot afford the costly modern filters, perform this ritual almost on a daily basis. Emmanuel says as a student he cannot afford bottled mineral water either - a complaint many re-echo.
The water drama has seen many residents in the city resort to quenching their thirsts with water from questionable sources packaged in plastic sachets which normally sell at FCFA 50.
“The quality of the sachet water is sometimes doubtful but we don’t have a choice,” says Evelyn a mother of three who lives in Emana, Yaoundé, adding that her entire family uses sachet water.
The “muddy” water gushing from faucets in Yaoundé comes after protracted water shortages in several areas in the capital. Some neighbourhoods went for months on end without a single drop trickling from taps.
Government stepped in to arrest the crisis, instructing some organizations to come to the succour of city dwellers. Fire fighters, the police and the Yaoundé City Council rationed water to the neighbourhoods in greatest need.
While the quick-fix lasted for the brief period it did, many are those who hold the state culpable for their plight saying their woes began with government’s liquidation of the National Water Corporation (SNEC). A few cuts were recorded when SNEC was in charge but, the sore progressively festered into a more hazardous one when stewardship moved from public to private hands, they argue.
The World Bank Institute’s Water Policy Reform Program foresaw such growing water stress and prodded the world in a November 1999 report to urgently seek redress and save over one billion people who lack safe water globally and a further three billion in need of adequate sanitation.
“More than eighty countries, with forty percent of the world’s population, are already facing water shortages, while by [the] year 2020 the world’s population will double,” the report said.
“The costs of water infrastructure have risen dramatically. The quality of water in rivers and underground has deteriorated, due to pollution by waste and contaminants from cities, industry and agriculture. Ecosystems are being destroyed, sometimes permanently.”
By Ndi Eugene Ndi