Pompidou ground-well at Barrack Old Road Kissy

Corruption in the water sector – a perspective from Sierra Leone

The high rate of corruption in the water sector continues to have devastating effects on the lives of the deprived and marginalized communities in developing countries. So much so that many die from either contamination or water-related diseases.

According to the Programme Manager of the Sub-Saharan capacity building programme on water integrity at SIWI, over thirty billion dollars US$ 30 billion of funds invested in the water sector in developing countries over the last 10 years has gone into the wrong hands.

If we are reverse this dismal situation where billions of dollars invested in the water sector are reflected in the lives of the ordinary person, mechanisms should be put in place to monitor water projects at all stages and heads of water institutions should give account of how funds are used.

Today, we hears of billions of bilateral contracts signed, extravagant talk shows and radio programmes on plans to improve the water sector. But at the end of the day, the water situation is either dismal or remains the same.

How long must this situation continue where the wealthy and those highly placed in society enjoy and access pure and safe drinking tap water, leaving the majority of the poor community to trek miles for just a bucket of water? When will the deprived and marginalized on the hill top areas, the slums, camps and remote villages say “we too can now boast of pure drinking water”?

When will our politicians stand by their manifestos by providing pure and affordable drinking water for their citizens?

Every day, millions are dying slowly from a lack of pure drinking water. The issue of accessing pure and affordable water is a fundamental human right but this is not given the attention it requires.Governments in various places tend to shift the blame on the masses, on the other hand the masses shift the blame on the Government for not meeting its responsibilities.

Corruption in the water sector is ripe and involves all classes of people ranging from the ordinary man, politicians, heads of Water Institutions and even Non-Governmental Organizations working in the sector. Estimates by the World Bank report suggest that 20 to 40% of water sector finances are being lost to dishonest practices.

The Training Manual on Water Integrity, states that in the sub-Sahara Africa, 44 % of the countries are unlikely to attain the Millennium Development Goal target for drinking water. 85% are unlikely to attain the sanitation targets.

Talking about corrupt practices in the water sector there are lots of reference points to make in the case of Sierra Leone.  As a result of greed and selfishness, we today tend to embark on the following activities that in turn affect the effective operation of the water service delivery system.

  • The concentration of water programmes in the cities rather than the rural areas even though taxes are paid to the Government there too
  • Refusal to pay for water bills regularly
  • Removal of pipes or water facility machines parts for sale as scrap metal.
  • Substandard projects by some contractors
  • Lack of transparency and accountability by some authorities
  • Marginalization of certain areas or households

Kambia District, with a population in 2010 of about 308,929, has the lowest percentage (27%) of households with improved source of drinking water in the Northern region and below the national average (57%). The district is a melting pot in the country, as people from all parts of the country and neighbouring Guinea converge there to trade weekly. As a result, sound sanitation practices  and access to pure drinking water are needed to avoid cholera outbreaks. Unfortunately, when this does not happen, the place is a breeding ground for the spread of cholera that has already affected the lives of many people in the country.

There are 992 protected water points in the district, out of which only 549 are functional. Of the 443 non-functional water points, 106 are partially damaged, while 270 are completely broken down. These non-functional wells are mostly due to a lack of maintenance or a defined strategy to sustain the operations of the water points.

One excuse advanced for this situation last year was that some of the inhabitants refused the payment of LE 15,000  for their monthly water rate bill per household. This would have halted the effective operations of JICA & Sierra Leone Water project.

Water facilities in Taiama Moyamba District, neglected for the last 20 years

In Moyamba District, Kori Chiefdom Taiama, water infrastructure that had been abandoned for almost twenty years and is slowly becoming a zone for scrap metals. Youths are seen either climbing the tanks, or in the machine rooms to grab whatever they can.

Kori Chiefdom hosts the oldest provincial University in the country (Njala University), yet access to pure and affordable drinking pipe-born water is a dream to be actualized. In the morning, it is the survival of the fittest to get water from boreholes or wells with hand pumps.

In the city of Freetown, the search for pure and affordable water has forced many to embark on unhealthy practices at the detriment of the little water delivery service.

Though the Government intends to shift the low water service delivery in the city with pressure on the Guma Valley Dam. To many this is not acceptable as there are other quality dams around the city that should have been developed to supply other parts of the city. Most people who cannot get the flow of the Guma Valley water to their respective communities in the east or mountainous places cut pipes to scoop water whilst others embark on illegal connections.

In mountainous region of the city, precisely Allen Town or the Wilberforce area, community bore-holes exist which are controlled by certain individual to which a minimum sum is paid for using the resource. The unfortunate aspect of this is that the locals lack the chemicals to clean the water wells or improve the situation.

With regards to substandard work or political influence, some organizations working on the construction of water wells are under pressure to select areas closer to the houses of traditional authorities rather than looking out for ideal sites that will maintain water throughout the year. With such poor judgement, politically influenced or substandard wells do not survive the retention of water in the dry season. As a result the wells are not up to the task for which they were constructed.

Although the Acting Director of Sierra Leone Water Company SLWACO Mr. Bangura is open with local media on the  developments in the water sector, the dismaying situation has not changed and millions in the city and in remote areas of the country, continue to spend their days scouting for water.

The lack of access to pure water supply is a major concern especially in the eastern parts of Freetown where one is often up till 12pm or 4am to get water. In an interview, Alpha Kamara, the caretaker of the Pompidou Ground well in Kissy, revealed that access to pure water is still a major problem at Thunder Hill, one of the most deprived communities. Children abandon their schools in search of water by using wooden trolleys to secure water on a commercial basis. The Pompidou Ground Well is serving hundreds of residents on a daily basis from various communities including Lowcost, Brima Lane, Portee, and Jollah Terrace among others. It is the only source of water during the dry season. However, Kamara pointed to the poor sanitary state of the well, noting that some residents use it for drinking purposes and that it has negative impact on their health.

We hear “we have signed contacts with companies and plan to construct modern water facilities in various parts of the country”. This is not a news to us. We want action, now. We have already commenced a crucial period in the year, the Dry season, when streams and rivers will dry up. What is the Ministry of Water Resources going to do to address this situation?