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Cameroon's Water Challenge and the way forward

Can the Market, instead of the government provide potable water for Cameroonians? By Chofor Che

Without potable water, there is no life. However, most governments in Central Africa and especially the government of Cameroon undermine this natural right. The acute portable water shortage in Cameroon is alarming. It is more pronounced in rural Cameroon, Yaoundé and the economic capital, Douala. Douala, is blessed with a sea port as well as other water sources, but suffers enormously from acute portable water shortages. Over the months, the number of deaths caused by water borne diseases has doubled.

At times water may start flowing from taps only after midnight. People must wake up late at night to get a chance to fill their buckets. But the quantity and quality of water stored is hardly enough and conducive for a big family. Due to the scarcity of water, people have to walk several kilometres in search of drinking water they are not guaranteed to find. The cholera epidemic which still plagues the country derives its origin from this problem.

Whilst the government enjoys the circus of mega plans to solve the artificial water crisis, ordinary individuals and council are seeking alternatives to water livelihood. Some council areas have even taken up the challenge to build portable water units. The Tsinga neighbourhood in the capital city has done well to provide a portable water unit that supplies three other neighbourhoods.

The government of Cameroon has announced the launch of so many giant projects in regard to this problem. Many argue that this is a political hoax by the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Party, CPDM. They add that the CPDM is using this strategy to garner votes for October’s Presidential elections 2011.

Instead of speeding up the process to relieve the people, the government claims that studies are still being done for an effective and durable provision of portable water in the country.

Some of the projects in the pipeline include that of the river Sanaga in the Central Region to supply water in the country’s capital city, Yaoundé. Recently, Ministry of Energy and Water Resources signed an agreement with a Chinese firm, China Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation (CMEC) for the latter to carry out feasibility studies to supply the city of Yaoundé with portable water from River Sanaga.

According to the Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Michael Ngako Tomdio, the project on River Sanaga will upon completion bring additional supply of 100 000 cubic metres of water daily to the town. The studies are expected to span for a period of one year after which government could start setting up some benchmarks on how much it could cost, how long it would take and where to get financing. Why should such an important study take forever?

Recently the government through the country’s water corporation, CAMWATER signed a loan agreement with the French Development Agency to the tune of 65.6 billion for the supply of four towns in the country. These towns include Yaoundé, Ngaoundere, Edea and Bertoua. According to the terms of the agreement, the loan will be paid back in twenty years with a five year period of grace.

It is so disheartening for a country blessed with natural resources such as Cameroon to depend grossly on financial assistance for the revamping of the water sector. The truth is that most of these loans gotten from Development partners are siphoned by corrupt civil servants. Part of the revenue derived from a sector like the country’s oil sector, can in effect solve the water crisis in the country. There is no need to borrow huge amounts of money from Development partners. These loans come with humongous interests rates and those who suffer the brunt of these heavy interests’ rates are dying Cameroonians whose lack of portable water is no fault of theirs, but that of government.

Another major cause of this acute water shortage is the poor maintenance of water supply equipments. Normally, government has to ensure that after ten to twenty years of using equipments, these equipments used in water supply especially to the capital city are replaced. The running budget of the country’s water corporation, CAMWATER provides for the replacement of equipments after a certain period of time. The fact is that this money is not used for this purpose. The money finds its way into the pockets of corrupt government officials.

The country had before privatised the water sector. But this process was a failure because a majority of the shares was bought and managed by government, thus defeating the true purpose of privatisation. If the country could implement actual privatisation in this sector, then the country could be relieved of acute water supply shortages. There is therefore need for Cameroon’s Ministry of Energy and Water Resources to revisit the water policy in the country. Implementing a sustainable market strategy which would embrace the private sector is therefore the way forward.

Chofor Che is a Cameroonian Academic and an associate of AfricanLiberty.org. This article has been syndicated via AfricanLiberty.org

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