CRISIS

 

President Bio’s new Ministers of Water Resources and Energy have to hit the ground sprinting like Hussein Bolt to the rescue of millions of their compatriots of all classes who have said that the new government should place the availability of clean drinking water and adequate supply of electricity top on its priority list of short, medium and long term development initiatives.

One cannot imagine a modern developing economy like ours in search of rapid development doing so without an adequate, reliable, uninterrupted supply of energy. Electricity to a modern economy is like the blood that runs through the veins. Without blood, one dies. Without electricity, many vital services grind slowly to a halt.

Conscious of this, in its efforts to increase national productivity and wealth, the former government invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the energy sector; not only in Freetown but the provinces as well. Correspondingly, up to the time of the past national elections, there was no cause to complain about the availability of electricity in the Western Area and the provincial cities.

Then, all of a suddenly, immediately after the results of the presidential run-off election was announced, electricity supply particularly to the Western Area developed a very serious hiccup. People used to constant electricity supply thought that the abnormality was only a freak occurrence. But when it persisted, people, particularly SLPP supporters, attributed it to sabotage.

From the days of ‘Nothing Pass Advantage’ (NPA) to EDSA/EGTC, the explanation for a drastic drop in electricity supply during this time of the year has been the water level at the Bumbuna dam falling. Before that, it was ‘Susan 4’ at the Kingtom Power Station falling chronically ill and needing complete resuscitation therapy that usually took months, if not years.

No amount of explanation about why Freetown has suddenly gone back to the days of the 1990s in terms of erratic and unpredictable electricity supply can satisfy consumers that have become used to having constant electricity. Lower income families told The Exclusive that they depend on their fridges and freezers for the sale of cold water, ice block, kool aid, ice cream, etc, to make ends meet. According to them, the income they realised from these microeconomic activities is what they used to feed their homes and pay their children’s school fees. They are therefore calling on the new Energy Minister and EDSA/EGTC to urgently do something to salvage the current electricity outage.

At the same time, people who run medium and big businesses that depend daily on electricity are moaning over the mounting bill for fuel and running their generators/plants which they say is ten times the cost of using EDSA electricity. “Big investors will not come to this country with plants and equipment that depend wholly and solely on power supply to run them,” one Lebanese factory owner in Kissy said as he watched a bowser of fuel bought from NP entering into his factory compound.

However, there is consolation and hope that the epileptic electricity supply situation in the country can be amended sooner than later in the words of the new Energy Minister, Alhaji Kanja Sesay when he met with top Ministry and EDSA staff. “Energy is the backbone of development in any country; and a lot of money is slated for the Ministry for which we want to see value for money,” he assured.

Whilst many poor people continue to exist comfortably without electricity in their homes, the same cannot be said about them living without clean drinking water. One exasperated city dweller living in the hillside lamented that the shortage of clean drinking water in their community has reached crisis stage. “Fetching water has become a whole business of its own, employing armies of children that should otherwise be in school, studying at home, playing or sleeping,” he said.

“If water is life,” said one nurse at a community clinic on the eastern outskirts of the city, “then Dr. Jonathan Tengbeh and his ministry staff, Guma and SALWACO must quickly prove that they have a magician’s wand to turn what has become a frustrating national issue into one of relief for the millions of Sierra Leoneans affected by the severe shortage of clean drinking water between the dry season months and the rainy season.”

Nobody is spared by the severe water crisis that has hit the country this year. In the posh residential areas of Hill Station, IMATT, Juba Hill, Wilkinson Road, Wilberforce, it is not uncommon to see pot-belly men and women with their equally overfed children and dependants scurrying about at odd hours with yellow five gallon containers searching for water.

For those who have pipes connecting them to Guma’s supply, their biggest headache is people willfully and maliciously cutting their pipes to get water. This has become a menace all across the city. When The Exclusive spoke to a group of such violators at Wilberforce, they looked at me in the eyes and said: “You cannot blame us. We too have right to clean water.”

The Exclusive also spoke to a water specialist in one of the NGOs who pointed out that the problem has a lot to do with Guma’s failure to forecast and look ahead to the growing need for water in the city in particular and lay out appropriate plans for dealing with the problem and the cutting down of trees. “If we do not give serious consideration to deforestation in water catchment areas, this problem would only go from bad to worse,” one concerned environmentalist looking at the destruction done over the past two decades to the once lush forest cover around the Guma dam said.

In the immediate short term, the question is – how can this new government that has promised to manage the country’s resources judiciously for the benefit of all go about solving the problem of a severe shortage of clean water in many communities in the Western Area? In the hillside communities and the East End from Wellington to Calaba Town and beyond, a five gallon container of water of dubious purity is sold at Le1, 000. The major beneficiaries of the severe clean drinking water crisis in the whole country are the plastic water manufacturers. In the provinces their small cup of water is sold at Le500. Imagine the profit margin.