The fears of an outbreak of water-borne diseases are real even if inhabitants do not openly voice it out. For close to three weeks now, locals in the city of Kumba, South West of Cameroon, have resorted to different sources of water supply.

Residents can be seen with containers of various sizes in queues fetching water, distributed by the local municipal authorities. Others fetch water with questionable quality from wells and boreholes.

“In Kumba 1 council area, water distributed to the population is from the boreholes at the Nfon’s palace. Water distributed to Kumba 2 and Kumba 3 council residents is supplied by the National Water Cooperation Camwater. We are told that the water which has been distributed by Camwater to the locals was gotten from nearby cities. Though we drink it, we still have doubts,” a resident in Kosala neighborhood said.

Scramble for waterSonac Street Kumba.

Thampers Media is also reliably informed that as an assurance and confidence-building measure, the local administrators who often lead the distribution teams are obliged to drink the water first.

“We do not know whether they drink in front of us but go home and continue drinking mineral water. We are not so confident, especially with the fact that the army rescue unit or firefighters are also involved in the distribution process,” quipped another Kumba resident who requested not to be named.

His fear was that the water crisis is within the context of an ongoing war and some have lost trust in the military. Many other residents in Bonakama, Meboka, and Cassava Farm in the Kumba 1 area are making use of their wells, nearby streams, and other doubtful sources of water supply.

The situation has triggered concerns and fears of a looming outbreak of water diseases if the water crisis is not quickly and adequately addressed. These fears are however dispelled by the Member of Parliament of the Kumba Urban constituency.

“When we talk of giving water to other places, it means that water that is to be distributed is what is going to be tested and approved that it is good for human consumption. We cannot give water that is going to create water-borne diseases to the population.

In other places, it works. Even in Yaounde and Douala, you find Camwater officials distributing water where there is a shortage of water or maintenance works. I know of people in Kumba who have been living in wells in their houses,” the ruling CPDM party’s Honorable Lawson Tabot told Kingdom Radio in Kumba on September 9, 2022.  

He however did not say whether the water that had been distributed in the Kumba municipality had been tested or whether the boreholes from where water was fetched and distributed had been treated.

Risks Abound

A water supply engineer sharing the Nepal experience with Thampers Media highlighted some of the risks involved in consuming untreated water.

Rural Nepal and treatment of water supply. Photo Nepal Times

“We should at least know how deep the borehole is. Whether it is more or less than 50 meters deep. Water near the water surface has more risk of contamination and impurities. Water that is deeper is cleaner and safer. If the water has not been treated it may contain some dissolved heavy metals like iron and manganese and arsenic like what we have in Nepal,” Aashutosh Kumar Thakur, explained.

This varies as per region around the world because in Nepal we have three. These three heavy metals if consumed over a long period of time can lead to many health effects. The riskiest is arsenic, which can lead to cancer in the long term. You should consider checking in Cameroon if that part of the country has arsenic, ”he added. Kumar who now studying towards a Masters Degree in environmental engineering at Chalmers University of Technology also provides some solutions for groundwater treatment.  

“Basic methods like boiling and solar disinfection work for biological impurities and not for heavy metals. For metals, you ‘have’ to get a report and adopt suitable treatments like an iron filter, manganese filter, and other units. Chlorine only removes biological impurities and not chemical impurities in groundwater,” he explained.

The Water Crisis

On September 4, 2022, the entire metropolitan city of Kumba, famously referred to as The Green City, was left in chaos after heavy rainfalls caused a landslide around Hilltop, towards the Fiango neighborhood.  There were devastating consequences as the landslide led to the destruction of some two major pipes that supplied water to the entire city with a population of approximately 150 000 inhabitants.

The first pipe was reportedly destroyed at the catchment site at lake Mbo Barombi, which up to the time of filling in this report, is still under repairs. We are told that the second pipe that was destroyed in the Hilltop neighborhood in the Kumba 1 Sub-division was immediately repaired by the council since it was not a major burst. As a result of the destruction of the two pipes, Kumba inhabitants adopted strategies to have water for their livelihood, notably, the use of boreholes and random water supplies by CAMWater and the army rescue unit tankers.

Borehole at the Nfon’s Palace

Recounting the ordeal to get water supply for his household, Njingang Godwin, a Kumba inhabitant said for one to be able to carry water, he has to wake up very early and stand along the roadside, hoping that the CAMWater tanker passes by and supplies water. The other alternative method of getting water for the household is to go to a borehole.

To this effect, locals every morning and in the evenings have to queue up at a Kumba-based businessman, Tyson Achanyi’s residence, and at the Nfon’s palace to get water to use for drinking and their household chores. It is also reported that another business magnate, Samfon also supplies water to the locals from the borehole at his residence.

While the population continues to scramble for water, the Cameroon water Cooperation authorities are said to be making frantic efforts to restore the water supply. One of Camewater’s officials, Ebot Oballe, and a team of technicians are said to have been on site for over a week to try and patch the burst pipes.

There are however challenges with the topography of the affected area which is reportedly slowing down the work. The lockdown of the area through ghost towns instituted by Southern Cameroons non-state armed actors involved in fighting with the regular army is said to be a setback. 

*With field reports

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