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Water crisis hits Sierra Leone capital

16 May 2016, 12:54

Freetown - Sierra Leone's capital is in the grip of a fortnight-long drought that has forced residents to spend hours searching for water, often risking their lives by drinking contaminated supplies.

Activists have warned that schoolchildren are having to spend entire nights looking for water, with no end in sight for the crisis.

"The water crisis is worsening by the hour," Sao Lamin, chairman of Consortium of Civil Societies for Safe and Available Drinking Water told AFP on Friday in Freetown.

"We have put out monitoring teams throughout the city on a nightly basis to assess the extent of the crisis and have found out that many people, including schoolgirls, are not sleeping in their houses as they go in search of water from midnight to daybreak," he said.

One water company that typically provides 20 000 litres of water to the capital every day blamed environmental problems and years of bills left unpaid by customers.

"We can link the current scarcity to delayed rainfall as well as massive deforestation and people constructing houses adjacent to the water catchment sites," said Joseph Musa, a spokesperson for the Guma Valley Water Company.

"Millions of dollars covering over a decade or more are owed to the company," he said.

The government has called for calm and promised to do more to help, saying it was "disturbed" by reports of girls forced to roam the streets at night in search for water.

Water tanks

"The government is trying all possible means to alleviate the situation and has located 10 000-litre water tanks in strategic parts of the city to supply water to consumers," Information and Communications Minister Mohamed Bangura said this week.

"We are not making excuses but take full responsibility for what is happening," he added, saying the emergency distribution programme would continue for the next month.

The effects of the shortage may be severe in a country where deaths from waterborne diseases are common.

Local media have reported that dozens of water wells have already dried up in the western and eastern parts of the city, while an AFP journalist on Friday saw young women filling giant containers with water from a stagnant stream.

Bottled water manufacturers have cashed in on the crisis, reportedly doubling their prices to the equivalent of $1 (89 euro cents) per bottle in a country where the majority live on less than a dollar a day.

"It has never been like this," said Pastor Sammy Williams of the Life Brethren Church, who said he was praying for divine intervention as he gazed at the city's hilltop houses with dusty roofs scattered amongst parched brown trees.



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