‘It’s a War to Get Water from This Place’ - Heritage Investigation in Paynesville, River Cess

The water pump outside Precious Koon’s house is padlocked, its concrete basin dry. It has been that way for months.
Every morning, she and other residents from a section of Paynesville called Rock Hill – so named for its harsh terrain walk half an hour to buy water by the gallon in yellowed plastic containers so they can begin carrying out the day’s most basic tasks.

“The water situation is very worrisome,” Ms. Koon said. “Getting water for drinking or cooking is very difficult, especially during the dry season.” Ms. Koon is part of the growing population of nearly 40,000 residents who make up the GSA Road community. Rock Hill alone has about 3,000 residents.

The mother of one said she is among thousands who are forced to buy safe drinking water from the owners of private wells and hand pumps in the area. A gallon sells for L$20.00 (US$0.26).  “Everything we do needs water,” she said. “Just imagine, 15 people live in this house, and everyone must get water to drink or bathe. Besides this, we need water to prepare our daily meal.”

The area has 12 private hand pumps and two hand pumps constructed by NGOs that, when they work, provide water for just a few hours in the morning and late afternoon. There is not a single public well constructed by government. A Japanese NGO came to GSARoad a few months ago to dig wells but when workers hit water 152 feet below ground, they found it wasn’t safe enough to drink, Mr. FayiahKemayah, chairman of the GSA Road Community Association, told The Heritage.

“It is a war to get water from this place,” said resident Julius Klah. The GSA Road community spans 15 blocks. In at least three of those blocks (C1, C2 and C3), there is no way to drill or dig a well because the land is just too rocky, Mr. Kemayah said. “Our only hope is to run pipes to the area,” he said. “Most pipes there now are rusted. We are appealing to the government.”

Improving access to clean water and sanitation facilities are priorities for local leaders. “The (sanitation) situation is worse than the water issue,” Mr. Kemayah said.“There are no public sanitation facilities in the entire community. A few use private sanitation facilities, while most others use the nearby bushes to defecate.”

The problem is not confined to GSA. Paynesville City Manager Mr. Wilbert Clarke said water and sanitation issues confound the area at large. Paynesville is home to 314,000 residents ¬—the largest city population in Liberia outside of Monrovia — yet it gets almost no national support, Mr. Clarke said. Pipe-borne water amounts to less than 30 per cent of Paynesville’s water supply,” Mr. Clarke said. And even that is limited.

“We have two hours of water supply flowing at night,” he said. “By the time you wake up there is no water.” Mr. Clarke is calling on the government to allocate adequate funding to get water flowing in the city. “Those areas that are accessible, connect them,” Mr. Clarke said. “There are parts not too far from the main road – put those pipes in. If communities need to subsidize, they can pay whatever flat rate is required so they can have water.” He said the city would like to provide more wells and sanitation facilities but does not have the budget to do the work on its own.

Paynesville, he noted, has never been placed in the national budget despite repeated attempts by the city to be included. “With adequate budget the city can do better. We can decrease the water and sanitation problem by 50 per cent in a year’s time,” said Mr. Clarke.
The PCC Manager estimated that the city needs at least US$600,000 to build new public wells and bathroom facilities.  In Liberia, 36 per cent per cent of the country’s population lacks access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF's Joint Monitoring Programme for Water and Sanitation.

The 14-year civil conflict that saw boys recruited as child soldiers and many girls turned into sex slaves devastated the country’s infrastructure, including its water supply. When the war ended in 2003, a desperate search for water began. Many of the wells in place today are contaminated, broken or overused. Many villagers are forced to draw water from stagnant swamps where water-borne diseases like dysentery, cholera and hepatitis loom.

 The problem may be even more menacing in rural Liberia, where residents fetch water from contaminated creeks and rivers. In Teekpe Town, which is situated in the Central River Cess District of River Cess County, resident John Binney must drink and relieve himself from the local creek, which is typically yellow in colour or light brown, depending on the amount of rain or sun.

“This is the only means we have to get water, and this is the only means we have to ease ourselves as well,”Mr. Binney said. “We use the lower end of (the creek) for toilet purpose, while the upper part is used for drinking,” he said.  RiverCess County is in the south-central portion of Liberia. As of the 2008 Census, its population was 71,509, making it the third-least-populated county in Liberia.

Teekpeh Town itself has about 700 residents. Created in 1984, the current County Superintendent is Mr. Wellington Geevon-Smith. He recently appealed for help to the African Women Forum in the United Kingdom. Several of its delegates toured the area in April to inspect water and sanitation facilities. The group said it will discuss the situation and determine whether it can offer aid.
When it rains, the water flows from the shore and carries contaminants into the very creeks and rivers that are used for drinking,posing a great risk. The outbreak of water-borne diseases is likely.  The General Assembly of the United Nations on July 28, 2010 declared that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right.
At ameeting in New York that year, the 192-member Assembly also called on United Nations member states and international organizations to offer funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries scale up their efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for everyone. The Assembly resolution received 122 votes in favor and zero votes against, while 41 countries abstained from voting. Liberia voted in favour of the resolution.

The Liberia Water and Sanitation Corporation, through its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Wilmot K. Dweh, said plans are underway to improve the supply of water in the country, especially in the capital. He said he could provide details of those plans.


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