In Liberia, Surrounded By Water but Nothing to Drink

Bong Mines, Fuamah District, Bong County – Mrs. Na-Yuah Thompson, a mother of two, is a trader at the Bong Mines Market in Fuamah district. Due to acute water scarcity in the area, the woman routinely wakes up as early as 5.30 a.m. every day in search of water before preparing her kids for school and cooking breakfast for the family.
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Thompson often gets to her stall in the market late because of the length of time she wastes in search of water. “The water problem here needs urgent attention. In spite of the fact that we spend a lot of money buying water, we still have to wake up early to queue up at the water selling point,” she says.

“Although there are creeks and two hand pumps which are not functional. We are appealing to the government and the county authority to come to the rescue of the masses by providing water for us,” she says.

Thompson’s plights are similar to the many troubles displaced Bong Mines residents are encountering since their eviction from the premises of China Union a few weeks ago. FrontPageAfrica can confirm that the major challenge facing the area’s residents in the last few months has been the acute shortage of water.

Most residents of the ancient town have complained about the perennial shortage of water, lamenting that they spend a lot of money on buying water from vendors for their daily needs. Observers bemoan the scarcity of water in Bong Mines in spite of the town’s status as one of Fuamah district’s major centers of commerce, industry and agriculture.

They underscore the importance of water to human survival and note that in spite of the considerable government’s “investments” in water supply to the town, a larger percentage of the residents still do not have access to water.

The water shortage in the area, however, means good business to those vending water in the neighborhood. For instance, a bucket of water sells for LD$30, a 25-liter container sells for LD$50, while a drum goes for as high as LD$150 depending on the location in the town.

As a result, it has become a commonplace to spot people driving around the town with barrels and buckets in search of water, while many women and children are often seen with buckets and other containers on their heads looking for water. Some observers complain about the perceived indifference of the government and its officials to the precarious water situation in the town.

Mohammed Kromah, a businessman, particularly bemoans the water situation in the town by the management of China Union, a concession company prospecting for iron ore in the area.

“All things being equal, China Union should be supplying water to the neighboring towns and villages by building boreholes, but the residents are still searching for water to drink,” he says.

Mrs. Lovett Diggs, a restaurateur in the town, laments that she spends an average of LD$800 daily on procuring water to run her restaurant. She adds that the water situation is adversely affecting her business.

Mrs. Diggs is appealing to the government to find lasting solutions to the perennial water problems in the town, adding that the money she daily spends on water is eating deep into her profits.

“I spend a lot, both at home and in my restaurant, to buy water and the situation is becoming quite worrisome,” Diggs says, adding: “I want to appeal to both the government and China Union to find lasting solutions to our water problems.”

Sharing similar sentiments, Derrick Flomoku, a pharmacist, says that if the water problem is not resolved in time, it may lead to the outbreak of waterborne diseases in the area.

“This is because we are not sure that the water we buy from water vendors is hygienic and drinkable. We, however, have no other choice than to continue to patronize them since they are the only viable alternative open to us,” he says.

Flomoku urged the county leadership to pay tangible attention to efforts to construct boreholes, saying that it remains the major source of potable water to the people of the town and its environs.

Mr. Marcus Berrian, a surveyor in the area, insists that the government can initiate temporary measures to tackle the perennial menace of water scarcity in the town.

He said that the government through the county leadership could sink boreholes in strategic locations across the town, saying that such measure would give the government the ample time to address the looming water scarcity in the district.

Water experts, however, blame the water scarcity in the town on “institutional failure” or the failure of past county administrations to develop boreholes in order to distribute water to residents in an orderly manner.

Mr. Joshua Stevens, a water expert, describes the persistent water shortage in Bong Mines as “a crisis of governance and management”, alleging that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had been playing politics with the development of the area.

Stevens insists that if the government is apparently aware of the plight of Bong Mines residents regarding their access to drinkable water supply, it would have been able to construct additional boreholes to alleviate the people’s water problems.

“The acute water shortage in Bong Mines has become a campaign jingle for politicians, but they seem to forget their campaign promises as soon after their election into offices,” Stevens asserts.

“The rehabilitation of boreholes contracts had been awarded and re-awarded several times, but nothing tangible has been done, as the problem still persists. Water resources development and basic water services are usually handled by the government, as water is considered as a basic need and as a human right. Investments in water development require large financial resources, which are often beyond the reach of private individuals and poor communities. The government is, therefore, required to provide water for the citizens.”

Continued Stevens: “Water supply and sanitation problems cannot be divorced from other challenges facing the town and the state in general. Political leaders should, therefore, be alive to their responsibilities by ensuring that the citizens have access to safe water and other basic services.’

Stevens urges the government to have mercy on the residents of Bong Mines by refraining from playing politics with regard to the provision of water and other the essential amenities to the people.

Mrs. Beatrice Benson, an environmentalist, particularly implores the government to urgently tackle the acute water shortage in Bong Mines so as to prevent the emergence of diarrhea, dysentery and other gastrointestinal diseases associated with drinking unhygienic water.

Benson explained that a report of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005 revealed some 3,900 children die every day from complications arising from the ingestion of unclean water or poor hygiene.

He said that research has also indicated that diseases transmitted through water polluted by human excrement are the second highest killers worldwide after respiratory diseases.

“The research revealed that the lack of access to safe water is associated with four billion cases of diarrhea each year and results in the death of 1.7 billion people globally, most of whom are under the age of 5 years.

“The study also described diarrhea as the second biggest killer of children in Liberia, causing about 17 percent of the deaths of children below the age of five. This is largely due to drinking unsafe water and poor hygiene,” Benson says.

Reacting to the acute water scarcity in Bong Mines, the lawmaker of the district, Rep. Corpu Barclay (UP district 7), pledged to tackle the water problem decisively by sinking boreholes in strategic areas of the town.

She said that the provision of potable water via boreholes would be one of her priority concerns while implementing his constituency projects.

Barclay bemoaned that the lack of potable water in the area for a long time, reiterating her resolve to fulfill her campaign promises by sinking many boreholes across the town to alleviate the residents’ suffering.

The lawmaker recalled that she had conducted a fact-finding tour of her constituency to determine the communities’ needs in term of social amenities, pledging her determination to implement various development projects that would touch the people’s lives.

Sharing similar sentiments, Bong County Superintendent Selena Polson-Mappy gave the assurance that the county leadership will sink more boreholes across the town to address the problem of water scarcity.

She, nonetheless, appeals to the residents to exercise more patience, saying: “You know our administration is new but we intend to sink more boreholes to add to the existing ones in solving the people’s water problems.”

The assurances notwithstanding, observers urge the county leadership and members of the Bong legislative caucus to invest more in rural water supply schemes across the entire county.

They say that the lack of access to clean water, particularly in the rural areas, continues to remain a major source of concern to many citizens, while discouraging potential local and foreign entrepreneurs from investing in the area.

Observers note that if the citizens’ access to potable water is appreciably enhanced, it would improve their welfare and increase their productivity, while fostering the growth of the communities and the country at large.

Author: Selma Lomax

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