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Sierra Leone: Water Crisis Threatens Survival in Freetown

Children collect water from a river in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in Nov. 2006. (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
In Sierra Leone today, water is perennially scarce. Its insatiable demand has outstripped a stagnated, disrupted supply. In the dusty, thirsty capital city of Freetown, with scourging heat and temperatures reaching extremes, this threatens the people with dehydration and serious health challenges. Still struggling to get back on its feet after a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002, this nation of 6 million has seen a surge in migration in recent years, which has put a strain on already scarce resources, including food, housing, employment, and perhaps most importantly, water.
A complete overhaul of the country's structural water supply system needs top priority, but the nation's infrastructure has become obsolete, worn out, if not nearing breaking point. Government still crawls to measure up with technology that operates at fiber-optic pace in a modern economy. The necessity for capital investment is paramount and urgent. If electricity were stabilized, water pumps could be installed in vulnerable locations, so that pressurized water could reach consumers living at high gradient or mountainous regions. But service providers are seemingly apathetic to the needs of the consumers, neglecting maintenance until service finally breaks down.

For most of the year, Freetown residents face serious water shortage. Essential service hubs, such as Connaught Hospital, Princess Christian Hospital and local food markets in the heart of Freetown, see their taps run dry. Folk roam around with large plastic containers roaming for water like on a marooned Island. Those employed go to work with containers to fetch water. People who can afford it install water tanks, and for a price they can get a supply from fire trucks of the nation's Fire Force Brigade. Yet even for those who can afford this, it is not uncommon for duels to spark between employees of Guma Water Company and Fire Force workers, in some cases resulting in death.
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