Nightwatch’s Eco-talk takes a deep look into 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. Episode 1
By Hassan Ibrahim Conteh
One of the boys who lives at Doherty Street is bailing out some water from a hole for home use at Hillside Bypass Road on Mountain Cut in Freetown. Photo credit: Hassan Ibrahim Conteh © Nightwatch press
Hawa Ansu and others were patiently waiting on water to fill a half way dug-out well surrounded by rocks at Upper Owen Street, Mountain Cut community
A group of young boys and girls is squatting on dugout narrow well fetching water on a Hillside Bypass Road at Mountain Cut community in Freetown. The narrow well is found beneath the edges of some rocks being pounded by CSE bulldozers.
CSE, which means Compagnie Sahelienned Entreprises in French, is a Senegalese road construction company that has been working in Sierra Leone for decades. It was contracted by former President Ernest Bai Koroma to construct the Hillside Bypass Road, which stretches from Dwarzark community, in the west and Black Hall Road in the east of Freetown.
Mountain Cut is one of the communities in Freetown that is seriously being affected by unavailability of water supply. It is very common, especially during the dry season, to see children and women struggling to get water supply. The water, which sprouts from the ground, is collected for domestic use and for bathing purposes.
Most often a group of these boys and girls would have to patiently wait for some minutes for the water to fill a tiny hole on the hillside bypass road before they could bail the water out from the ground, using cups or smaller oval rubbers. This place is usually crowded with people, especially women, making it difficult for children to easily get access to the well. As a result of this overcrowding, school goers (boys and girls) would have to routinely come to this water location late in the evenings when the crowd dwindles.
“Every evening we come here to fetch water and we use the water to bathe before going to school. Our parents also use the water for cooking,” explained Mohamed Jalloh.
As pupils, Mohamed, including others, share their struggles and ordeals in living at Doherty Street, one of the many deprived streets in Mountain Cut community. He told Nightwatch that the community was seriously lagging behind in so many social facilities. Among them is lack of affordable and sustainable pure water.
There are times when a tap from the hillside opens and people gathered on the dusty road, with their rubbers, connect to a long pipe. But this doesn’t happen regularly, as it sometimes takes precisely three days before the tap opens.
A number of chaotic scenes, among those who fetch water, have become a usual phenomenon at this place and other areas. Most often, those who stay on the hilltop would have to strenuously trek down on some stony and narrow cobble routes, holding out and carrying bowls of rubbers and jerry cans.
Mohamed said they usually find it very difficult to carry the water on rubber containers to their street. This is because, he explained, road construction workers have not created any steps from the main bypass road leading downwards to Doherty Street and other surroundings.
Such a situation has left them with no option but to painstakingly crawl onto the side of high concrete road pavement while carrying bucket rubbers full of water. Similarly, there is also a very tiny stony well at Upper Owen Street at Mountain Cut environ.
On very late evenings, around 7:00 pm, a group of children were patiently fetching water from an underground, which is covered with some flat rocks, spreading out in vastness.
Hawa Ansu, aged 14, who attends Firestone Community Primary School within central Freetown, complained that she had fallen off a slippery rock almost twice.
“Back then, during Saturdays’ cleaning, soldiers used to clean this area (gutter-like) but now they have ceased coming,” Hawa and others revealed.
Issa Kargbo, aged 13, a pupil from the Albert Academy Senior Secondary School, quickly pointed at a scar on his toe after he had accidentally bumped into a rock nearby the well. Already, however; Freetown’s population is growing rapidly at an unprecedented rate, making water supply the most severe challenge faced by citizens living in one of the oldest bustling cities within West Africa.
The then colonial city gets its water supply from the oldest Guma Dam and the Guma Water Treatment Plant built in the 1960s situated at Western Area Forest Reserve. The dam has ceased to provide water to around 800,000 people. It used to supply about 83 million liters of water a day to ‘Freetonians.’
Sadly enough, that number has long since surpassed Freetown’s population with approximately 2 million inhabitants now live in the city, according to Sierra Leone’s Housing and Population Census of 2015. But in the absence of government’s swift responses, to permanently address water crisis situations in some parts in Freetown, some community social clubs have been pushing very hard, lobbying with their MPs to abate the storm of water unavailability.
Prime among them is ‘Together for Development Organization’ at Mountain Cut community. They have attracted the attention of Honourable Alhaji Alhadi Lihadi, representing Constituency 123.
A senior member of the club told Nightwatch that the MP, popularly known as Manhala, has promised to help them with a water bowser and probably a water cooler machine to be stationed around Doherty Street, which will also benefit other streets like Percival Lane and Owen Street in Mountain Cut.
If the project is realized, it will definitely prevent the likes of Hawa Ansu and Issa Kargbo from spending endless hours very late at night in search of water.
“Our organization has already constructed a basement for the water bowser, but the Honourable is yet to fulfill his promise. And we (club members) have been put into a funny situation because the community people keep asking us about when the project will actualize,” complained Alie Bangura, aka Pipito, who is the Public Relations person of Together for Development Organization.
To generate funds, in putting up the basement for a ‘Milla tank,’ Bangura narrated that they had been conducting house-to-house visitation, demanding community people to give their financial support.
“Water supply is a huge problem in this community and it affects children’s studying abilities, because each night they would have to go in search of water other than sitting at their various homes reading,” Bangura shared his observation.
He said the situation became very challenging for them during the dry season as compared to the raining season when they normally fetch water from a pipe fastened on a far hilltop where a tap is built. While Bangura was explaining, his sister, Alice Brima, came over holding a bucket half filled with reddish water, which had been bailed out from supposedly an underground well.
“The pump is locked; it doesn’t open frequently. So I managed to fetch this water,” Alice explained with laughter while carelessly holding the bucket.
It is very common to see children, like Alice, carrying buckets of colourful water collected from underground wells along the Hillside Bypass road in Freetown.
Most of these wells, where the water comes from, are found in open spaces with high presence of dust, which makes the water impure for drinking, washing and cooking purposes and a threat to human health.
There is hardly any household where the source of water quality is not tested regularly to determine the safety of the water. For instance, in 2017, according to Sierra Leone Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 40.6 per cent of about 14, 854 households were said to be suffering from unimproved drinking water sanitation and hygiene service
The survey findings’ report further reveals that, out of 16,133 number of households, only 15.7 per cent account for household members using sources of drinking water either in their dwelling, yard, plots or within 30 minutes round trip collection time.
The unhygienic water sources, where Hawa, Alice and others usually go on fetching water, are compelling testimonies of a worrying situation and a prevailing water crisis in the municipality of Freetown.