Cameroon's Water Crisis: A Call to Action During Africa Water Week
YAOUNDE, Cameroon – Access to potable water is a big issue across Cameroon, especially in rural areas. This has resulted in a variety of health issues and made life incredibly tough for many people.
One of the key causes of Cameroon’s water crisis is the lack of infrastructure. Many areas lack access to piped water, and those that do frequently endure outages owing to inadequate maintenance. In Yaoundé, the nation’s capital, drinking tap water can be dangerous, especially in densely populated unplanned neighborhoods with damaged sanitary facilities. In some circumstances, the infrastructure does not exist at all.
This means that people must rely on alternative water sources, such as rivers and wells, which may be contaminated. Leakages and spillovers from pit latrines and septic tanks have contaminated the water table, which supplies wells and streams in these locations. The vulnerability of these high-risk areas to flooding puts the rapidly increasing urban poor population at danger.
As Africa celebrates Africa Water Week with the theme “Holding hands to protect Africa’s water from corporate capture,” the African Center For Advocacy (ACA) visited some communities in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, to talk and assess access to clean water and its consequences on the people’s livelihood.
Ngoa Ekele Community
Just like many communities in Cameroon, Ngoa Ekele, a neighborhood in the Yaoundé III district of the Centre Region in Cameroon that harbours students from the Central African country’s 10 regions, has for some time been experiencing water shortages.
Inhabitants in this neighborhood report that the last time they saw clean water was two months ago. Most times, the water which is scarcely available is not drinkable, as the colour which is expected to be clear and or colourless is brown, says Dr. Bouem, an inhabitant of this neighbourhood. As a result of the lack of access to water, the population has resulted in carrying water from a spring, which can be considered unsafe because of its location and surroundings.
Mama Helmine, who has been living in Ngoa Ekele for seven years, told ACA that the small spring, though poorly maintained, is the main source of water for her and her family. Their daily survival lies in this spring hence she just has to manage it to go on with house chores.
Students who inhabit this area complain of the difficulties in getting potable water but can’t leave the neighborhood because of its proximity to the University.
“I have no choice than use what is available here. I have not had tap water for about two months now so I have to carry from the spring just few houses away from mine, while buying mineral water to drink. When I first moved here, I constantly suffered from typhoid so I try as much as possible to buy drinking water in order to avoid falling sick” says Abraham, a student of the nearby University of Yaounde I.
Despite the challenges they face, the residents of Ngoa Ekele have learned to rely on each other and on the small spring that is their only source of water. They have developed a system where they take turns collecting water from the spring and sharing it with their neighbors. They have also learned to be frugal with their water usage, using it only for essential tasks such as drinking, cooking, and bathing.
Health and Economic Consequences
Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Absent, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose individuals to preventable health risks. This is particularly the case in health care facilities where both patients and staff are placed at additional risk of infection and disease when water, sanitation and hygiene services are lacking, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Water is at the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic development, energy and food production, healthy ecosystems and for human survival itself. Water is also at the heart of adaptation to climate change, serving as the crucial link between society and the environment.
In addition to the health risks, a shortage of clean water has economic consequences. People who are sick are unable to work, which means they are unable to earn a living and support their families.
Cameroon’s water crisis is a severe issue that affects many communities throughout the country. Lack of access to safe drinking water has major health and economic consequences, and immediate action is required to address this issue.
The ACA Rejects all Forms of Corporate Control of Water Services
“In line with the theme of Africa Water Week, ‘Holding hands to protect Africa’s water from corporate capture,’ we call on governments to stop water privatization. The consequences of water privatization for African communities are devastating, including higher water bills, worse service, job losses, and little control over their water resources,” said Felix Tih, Communications and Outreach Consultant at the African Center for Advocacy.
“The economic consequences of water shortages can be severe and far-reaching. It is important that governments invest in water infrastructure and management to ensure that everyone has access to clean water. We must put the well-being of communities first and protect Africa’s water from corporate greed,” he added.
In 2008, when the Cameroonian government privatized the public water service to Cameroon Water Utilities (Camwater), it thought it had chosen the right solution. This was not the case. The promised infrastructure has not been built, and the price of water has increased. Women, children, girls and people with disabilities were the most affected. This is when the ACA began to advocate for the state to take back control of the water sector.
The ACA took part in a public demonstration in October 2021 to denounce the role of the World Bank in the privatisation of water management in Africa. Together with partners such as Corporate Accountability and Public Participation (Nigeria), Corporate Accountability (USA), Public Services International and End Water Poverty, the ACA rejects all forms of corporate control and privatisation of water services, including through Public-Private Partnerships.
By Sandra Mbu, Advocacy Officer, African Center for Advocacy