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Flushing with gratitude: Learning about the corruption of water in Cameroon

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This morning when I flushed the toilet, I was very grateful. That’s because I’ve been learning about the water situation in Africa.  In the western African nation of Cameroon, two-thirds of the people live in cities. But less than one in five city dwellers has access to potable water. As a single man, Julius Awafong can afford to buy his water from a tap near his home in the capital city of Yaounde. Since it often contains dirt and other foreign matter, he runs it through a filter he purchased. But many cannot afford to obtain clean water in this way. I talked with Julius by email about how water corruption holds back the progress of his country and continent. He also sent me these photos

PB: How do most people in your city get water?

JA: The majority of the people in my city go down to the quarter to get their water from streams and wells. Imagine the time and effort it takes to carry heavy tubs of water to your home everyday. But what’s worse, the water isn’t even clean. The wells and streams are very close to the community pit toilets and bathrooms. Of course people without running water have no indoor toilets or bathtubs. Wells and streams are exposed to the air, so dirt, chemicals and waste materials often corrupt these water sources, especially during floods. In swampy areas of the city where the majority of people live, the squalor and stench are extreme. You can see a video I made of people catching stream water here.

PB: Most Americans don’t believe they can function without a warm shower. Forgive my ignorance, but how do Cameroonians bathe?

JA: We carry water in a bucket to the outdoor bathroom - which is for bathing - or some people also bathe in the pit toilet. We take the water from the bucket with our hands to throw on our body.  

Water Authority Corruption

PB: What would it take to get running water in people’s homes? 

JA: It’s not that there is no system of water running through cities – there is. One must pay a fee and submit documentation to the National Water Corporation in order to get water to run through the pipes of a home. Once a resident has followed these steps, the water authority has everything legally required get water running at the home. Yet even after completing the legal process, a family might wait forever without getting running water, except that they take the additional illegal step of bribing the chain of water connection officials. So not only is the water itself corrupted, but the water authority is rife with corruption. Corruption causes massive delays in the acquisition of water and makes it doubly expensive, so only those with big money can afford it.  

PB: Why is bribery so prevalent?

JA: I believe bribery is so prevalent because workers earn very meager salaries. They are forced to play the bribery game to increase their incomes. In that way they can afford to satisfy their family’s needs and also have access to clean water themselves. But think about this: using corrupt money to educate or feed our children, in my opinion, is an act of dishonesty. So we end up corrupting our children’s futures with this system. 

PB: Who does have running water in Cameroon?

JA: A very small group of wealthy people, members of some tribal lineages and political cronies have access to running water. With access to free water, government officials waste more, which means that water becomes scarcer to the larger population. And the wasting of water places a heavy burden on tax payers, who themselves have no access to potable water.  

Water Corruption and Elections

PB: What are the country’s leaders doing about the water situation?

JA: Just the opposite of what is needed. Water is in such high demand that during election season, politicians make a practice of sending their agents to communities in desperate need of water. These agents promise the people that the party has a new plan to bring water to their community if they will just vote for the party candidates. Having learned from previous unmet promises, people grumble and complain that this is just another false promise.  

So the agents now have begun making pretence of bringing a public water tap to the locality. Usually on the eve of the elections, workers bring shovels to dig holes for water pipes. Seeing what looks like tangible progress, the people get their hopes up that the promise of clean water is near. But immediately after the elections, the unfinished project is abandoned. This type of water corruption has tricked many people into joining political parties.   

Corrupt Contractors

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Patty Bates-Ballard is a mother and writer who advocates respect for the earth and its people. The owner of WordSmooth, a Dallas based communications company, Patty has just published her first book, Navigating Diversity. She also has written for (more...)
 

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The sheer wasteful profligacy of employing the mos... by martinweiss on Sunday, Dec 7, 2008 at 6:23:32 PM
figure out what we need to live. Make us pay for i... by martinweiss on Sunday, Dec 7, 2008 at 6:28:47 PM