Crisis Spotlight





Water in Crisis - Sierra Leone

Alexandra Barton, Guest Writer

Sierra Leone is a familiar and news-worthy country. It is most often noted for its large and controversial industry of diamond mining. A brutal civil war that lasted a decade has left many images of amputees and refugees, impoverished and displaced. Added to these struggles, Sierra Leone is marked by the poorest standards of living. It has the seventh lowest life expectancy and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Seventy percent of the population lives below the poverty line .

Sierra Leoneans collect most of their drinking water from polluted sources. Pollutants and poor sanitation are attributed to some of the health problems in the country. Sierra Leone is one of the toughest countries to survive in.

The average life expectancy for a Sierra Leonean is only 56 years. One of the lowest in the world, much of this statistic can be blamed on poor living conditions. Almost half of the population is not using a protected water source for drinking. Most of the unsafe drinking sources are freestanding water, such as ponds, and unprotected wells. Infections and parasites , most found in contaminated water, lead to the largest cause of death in Sierra Leone. Poor sanitation generates high risk of hepatitis A and Typhoid fever. Stillwater breeds malaria-carrying mosquitoes that plague the region with one of the most common deadly infections contracted in the area. Overall, health and standard of living are poor.

Sierra Leone's environment is disturbing production of agriculture and management of water. It has a rainy season about six months of each year. The rain is too torrential to be collected or used properly. Floods fill wells with waste and spread contaminated water to other drinking sources. For the amount of rain that soaks their land during the summers, Sierra Leoneans are confronted by equally difficult droughts during a winter dry season.

This country has insubstantial water storage to last through their dry season. It withdraws only one-third the amount of freshwater of other countries in similar size. Even though 95 percent of water is used agriculturally, ninety percent of food is imported in to Sierra Leone (4.3). With high costs of food, the average caloric intake for a Sierra Leonean is harmed by the country's inability to produce population-sustaining agriculture.

Chemicals used during agriculture production are polluting surface waters where many rural citizens collect their drinking water. Mining has caused land degradation and water pollution. Deforestation by mining has depleted water resources, as well as slash-and-burn farming, urbanization, and infrastructure building.

The government of Sierra Leone has a difficult task in managing water resources. It struggles to ensure distribution to areas that require sufficient drinking water. For example, the Guma Valley Water Company, which provides water for the capital of Freetown and its surrounding areas, has not been able to accommodate refugees and immigrants coming in to the city.

Overall, the public lacks awareness for water management, and the government does not have resources to maintain and distribute clean water. Sierra Leone's environment is harming its residents, and spreads diseases that make the country nearly uninhabitable.

The Water Project has been building wells to provide clean water to over 7,000 Sierra Leoneans so far. There are plans for more projects that will allow schools and rural communities to have access to safe drinking water.