Cameroon is endowed with abundant water resources.
From Lake Chad in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, it has numerous
rivers, lakes and springs. In fact, Cameroon has Africa's largest hydro-electric
potential after the DRC. But in most
parts of the country, there is little safe drinking water. That leads people to
unsafe water from wells and streams.
Nations Development Program says less than half of Cameroon's estimated 18
million inhabitants have access to safe drinking water. The situation is especially
serious in the most populated and rapidly expanding urban centers like Douala.
Taps often dry up for months and people have to
depend on water from wells built dangerously close to latrines and cesspools.
Others drink water sold on the streets – without knowing where it came from.
Water-related diseases like cholera and typhoid are
endemic. The following comments come
from "people on the street" interviews.
-- "Some years back, I had typhoid because of the poor
quality of drinking water here in Douala."
-- "Well, I have to admit I face problems with drinking
water here in Douala. I don't drink tap water and I have to buy bottled water.
I don't want to come down with typhoid or cholera or anything like that. Each time
you turn on the tap, the water is brown."
-- "I think the government has to do something right
now. I have close family members who died two years ago because of cholera."
In 2004, a cholera outbreak in Douala swept through
the country, killing about 70 people. Many feared a recurrence, with more and
more people showing symptoms of the disease.
NGOs like Plan International have stepped up
campaigns to warn the public of the dangers of unsafe drinking water.
And yet, the country is rich in water resources.
Cameroon has two rainy seasons and many sources of underground and surface
Experts blame water scarcity on rapid population
growth, chaotic urbanization, increased agricultural activity, industrial
pollution and climate change.
All across the country, safe drinking water has
become a luxury. The few homes with clean water piped in are regularly besieged
by thirsty men, women and children waiting in long queues to buy water for
their households at 51 cents per cubic meter.
The secretary general in the Ministry of Water and
Energy, Fritz Gerald Nasako, says the challenges are huge today because the
government spent decades grappling with economic crises. So it cut back on public investment, including
construction and maintenance of drinking water infrastructure.
"In fact there are a lot of contemporary challenges"
Nasako says. "One of these challenges is rapid urbanization. The population
increases at a geometric rate and overtakes the capacity we have to supply
water. You know there came a time when the government -- because of the
economic and financial crisis -- investment was not being carried out. But the
government is not folding its hands" he says."
Part of the government effort has been the split of
the state-owned Cameroon Water Corporation. Last year it was divided into the government
run Cameroon Water Utilities Corporation, CAMWATER - and the privatized Camerounaise
des Eaux - run by a Moroccan consortium handling distribution.
The government hopes the deal will improve the
situation as both companies build more water production units and expand
Gaston Meka manages communications at the Cameroon
Water Utilities Corporation. He says, "Since
the privatization of the National Water Corporation two years ago, we have now
a new configuration of the sector and many multilateral donors to help us with grants.
So now, we have many possibilities to ameliorate the access of the population
to potable water."
Meka adds, "We're constructing a modern water unit. By the end of this year, Douala will have a
new production unit and we're also doing social connections for people who
don't have enough money to get access to potable water. We hope to realize
about 50.000 new connections by the end of next year."
In the meantime Cameroonians continue to complain,
saying past promises have failed to materialize.
However, donors like the World Bank and the African
Development Bank are funding multi-million-dollar projects to improve access to
safe drinking water. They're also disinfecting wells countrywide.