Nightwatch’s Eco-talk takes a deep look at the deplorable situation of water sources environments in Freetown and the unbearable challenges faced by people, especially children and women, upon trotting to these perilous, crowded and hard-to-reach areas.
By Hassan Ibrahim Conteh
“This place, Botany-FBC environ, is blessed with water supply as compared to other communities where people form long queues for water,” compares Alusine Turay, one of the security officers attached at Botany Dam around Leicester Road community.
The dam, which supplies strategic places like State House, Parliament, Fire Force Sierra Leone, is sorrowfully neglected by successive governments over the years. Turay narrated that other communities benefitting from the dam are Fourah Bay Road, Circular Road, Cline Town, Macauley Street at Mountain Cut, Black Hall Road, Central Freetown and some parts in the east of the city.
A large metal pipe is en route from Tree Planting at Leicester village and down to Blue Gate on Fourah Bay College road where the main junction of water supplier lies. This water hub is connected to various junctions with tanks filled with water, which are supplying other communities in Freetown.
The dam, however, acts as a supplement to Freetown’s Guma Dam and the Guma Water Treatment Plant built in the 1960s situated at Western Area Forest Reserve. But the Guma Dam could no longer satisfy the overwhelming population of close to 2 million inhabitants now living in the city, according to Sierra Leone’s Housing and Population Census of 2015.
The dam was specially designed by the colonial masters to sustain early settlers of a number of 800,000 people. However, previous studies have shown that Guma pumps out 83 million liters of water a day to inhabitants in Freetown.
Meanwhile, back to the dam at Botany at Leicester Road community, Mariama said, if it were in other countries, like the United States, the Botany dam considering would have been befitted with amazing outfit making it look so tidy, ideal and protected as always, considering its huge natural water source and the role it plays as supplement to the Guma Dam.
“This place should have been fenced if it was in the United States of America,” she compared.
The dam, however, still remains appallingly dilapidated, unattractive with disjointed water pipes and dysfunctional bowsers, the only existing ‘Milla’ tank which stood few metres away from the dam.
Added to the problem is ‘community negligence’ over efforts made by security personnel who claim that they have been protecting lives and properties, cleaning the environment and constantly keeping the dam on watch.
Mariama, a security personnel attached at Botany Dam, called on government’s attention to replenish them with Operations Support Division (OSD) officers, thereby boosting their self-esteem and morale among community people who sometimes let out stream of invectives on them while exercising their function.
“We want the government to help us with OSDs; with that we believe the people would have fear not to ever abuse or molest us,” Mariama pleaded.
She added: “The community people from Leicester road never show us any amount of respect. They would abuse and sometimes fight us. If we tell them to clean up their water surroundings they care not, saying that they have been living here before our coming here.”
On the issue of laundering, at Botany, Mariama said the money the launderers pay is used to buy brooms, nails and other materials to enable them carry out their tasks, especially by keeping the surrounding clean and tidy, something the community people have occasionally refused to do.
“We don’t want their money because government pays us, but we are not happy about their aggressiveness toward us. They just don’t value us despite our efforts to safeguard their properties,” Mariama stressed.
“We face,” she continued, “other challenges with gardeners who are in the habit of cutting down trees that have the tendency of destroying water catchment areas,” she informed.
“These gardeners don’t spare the smaller trees; they cut them down and such practice is very bad because it destroys the soil from holding the water,” Mariama explains.
Availability of drinking water is not a difficulty, but what is so difficult is taking the water at Leicester Road households, which is about a mile to Botany area where a dam and many water wells could be found.
The ‘Milla tank’ or water bowser is built with taps, but has not been working since the past raining season, a situation which have forced people to fetch water from a long cut pipe usually attached to other pipes where the huge concrete sealed dam is.
Some people fetch water through some ‘water wells’ built by community members who fix up panel lids containing padlocks, protecting them from unscrupulous individuals.
The dam and these wells never dry up easily, but Turay says the dam starves as time progresses: “The water will serve us starting from January to April when we will experience little water supply from the water source around Gloucester village,” unlike the pipes, connected to some running water from Gloucester’s thick forest, the wells at Botany hardly dry up because the water comes from very deep holes. And it also means that when shortage of water rapidly peaks in April, the number of people searching for water doubles exponentially.
But after a month or two, in the middle of the raining season, the amount of those coming to Batany for water starts declining as many would usually decide to harvest the rain water at their homes.
On refusing to clean up the environment, Mariama explained that they often asked the launderers to pay as little as Le2,000 for any laundering done except when somebody comes to fetch water for other purposes like drinking, and such person is not required to pay a single cent.
But most people we have spoken to who come to fetch water for home use told Nightwatch that the guards used to ask them to pay little sum of money, but they have recently been told not to pay again after mounting squabbles with community well owners.
The squabbles erupted suddenly after one of the owners of a dug-out well reportedly destroyed a fence made up of lanky sticks, claiming that his water well’s view was blocked, which had prevented other people from accessing it.
The man’s action resulted to ‘side-talks’ among people, and confrontations between security officers, deployed at the Botany dam, and youths serving as caretakers of some wells built by community members. The confrontations followed police presence at Botany who were sent by authorities of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, to mount up investigations there.
“The police called for my boss who owns this well, but he is yet to disclose to me the outcome of his meeting with them,” explained one of the caretakers of an underground well at Botany.
Rarely, similar confrontations, being sparked up by allegedly some gangs from Mount Aureol community, unleashing terror at the Botany water reserve area, had also happened there over the years. And FBC’s authorities have not been expressing disquiet over matters of fighting arising there. They have been regularly and closely monitoring any developing situation of fracas occurring there.