It has become a familiar scene to see young men, women, children and even the elderly moving from one point to another with yellow Jerrycans and other containers in search of water.
Guma Valley Company, the utility company that is responsible for water supply to the capital city, has been completely out of capacity to handle the situation. Officials of the company have cited several reasons for their failure to cope with perennial problem. Among the reasons that have been repeatedly forwarded are lack of funding, the massive expansion of the city and its corresponding increase in population.
They also cite deforestation and encroachment on the water catchment areas, which has left the dam which supplies the city virtually constantly empty.
Inadequate and ailing infrastructure is also a major hindrance for Guma authorities.
But the woes of Guma have been on for decades. In fact it was referred to the National Commission for Privatization (NCP) 2002 as part of efforts to find a solution for its apparent inefficiency.
Guma is one of two government agencies mandated by law to provide water for the country. While it is charged with providing water to the capital, the Sierra Leone Water Company (SALWACO) is charged with the same responsible for the rest of the country outside the capital. Guma officials declined to talk to Politico and instead referred us to the NCP.
James Kamara, NCP’s Communication Officer, told Politico that the utility company needed massive financial investment to salvage the water crisis.
Guma is just one of 13 parastatals being supervised by the Commission and under consideration whether to be privatized or not. Kamara said they were in consultation with the Board of management of Guma to see how they could curb the many challenges they were currently battling.
“The problem besetting Guma are many. We have worked with the board of Guma Valley to try to address those problems but then…these problems are serious and addressing them will take some serious measures…If you look at the infrastructure, [it] is ailing, [it] is very old; now we’re talking of illegal connection and the issue of funding,” Kamara said
He pointed out that although the company was 98 percent owned by government, it was not on the list of those that get government subventions. He said Guma entirely relied on the charges from the consuming public which he said was the lowest in the sub-region. And, he added, customers seldom pay their bills.
Getting investors to invest in Guma, Kamara went on, was also hard to come by because they [investors] always wanted returns on their investment. He said the low water rate may have served as deterrent for them.
“If you want to invest in Guma, and you look at the liabilities and the objective of private investors [which] is to make profit, if the investor charges Le 500, 000 per month and we are paying Le30, 000 [per month], you do the conversion and tell me the gap,” Kamara explained.
He added: “So what we think is the solution is for the government to pour in a lot of resources in order to improve on the existing infrastructure and I am sure government is also engaged with its development partners to try and address the situation in that regards, like the World Bank, DFID, etc.”
Kamara said while they were waiting for funding, they were also embarking on short term plans in order to address the acute water shortage in the city. One of such plans, he said, was to provide water bouncers and bore holes in hard affected communities.
While the authorities continue to battle with the non-availability of funds to address the water crisis, the trending global warming has also posed a challenge as the normal weather pattern is now turned upside down. Sierra Leone is already listed among the three most vulnerable countries in the world in terms of susceptibility to the negative effects of climate change.
In this regards, Kamara noted, the water level at the dam that serves the capital city, which is situated at Mile 13 in the Western Urban District, has reached its lowest level in years. He said it was currently at a capacity of 5 feet down from last year. He said this was partly due to the deforestation at the water catchment areas in and around the dam.
He said the invaders were busy building houses in the area.
Last week a coalition of civil society organizations issued a 21-day ultimatum for the management of Guma demanding that they resign if they couldn’t resolve the water crisis.
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone also issued a statement urging the government to up its acts and fix the water crisis, citing human rights concerns with regards the current