This paper is an adaptation of an earlier one I delivered on the Cameroon National Radio Station on the 20h of March 2004, on the occasion of the celebration of World Water Day in Cameroon. The paper was one of the daily political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 a.m. prime time national and world news on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Yaoundé, between 2002 and 2005.
When Cameroon joins nationals in other member countries of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) to mark World Water Day on Tuesday, they will be doing so from a vantage point because unlike some of those other countries, Cameroon is a country where generally speaking, water flows. Even where it is not very forthcoming like in the Far North and North provinces where weather and climate can sometimes be harsh, the state has put in place structures such as artificial dams to ensure that water prevails at all cost.
Cameroon’s reserves of water are backed by the considerable access that the country has to the sea and the fact that it harbours what is widely regarded as the densest rain forest in the whole of Africa. In fact, although Cameroon, like most other countries in Africa, has two seasons per year, one wet and one dry, the country has gone down on record as one with the wettest place in Africa. That place is a locality called Debunscha, in the South West Region, where it rains all year round.
Despite those aquatic endowments, Cameroonian authorities would be wrong to rest on their laurels because there are still some gaping gaps in the nation’s water security mechanism. The proof is that only a few days ago, the agriculture and rural development minister sounded the alarm bells to the effect that the northern part of the country faced impending famine as a result of poor rainfall having wrong footed farmers and cut food production by up to 20 per cent. This phenomenon is hardly surprising because the northern part of the country is characterized by arid, semi-desert vegetation, which is a sharp contrast to the constantly bathed thick rainforests of the south.
However, it must at the same time be pointed out that abundant rainfall which generates a good flow of water does not necessarily mean that water derived thus is good for use. In other words, the availability of water does not of necessity mean that the population’s water needs are automatically met. That is because when it comes to looking at the fraction of Cameroonians that has access to potable water, a problem arises. Far too many families still do not have the privilege of drinking potable water, if a privilege it is. While comparatively few Cameroonians use pipe borne water, most use alternative sources such as stream water and sunk wells. Interestingly, Non Governmental Bodies (NGOs) such as PLAN International have seen the wisdom of wells and are increasingly providing them, especially to the rural communities which are more vulnerable when it comes to needs, so that potable water can reach as many Cameroonians as possible. It is to be noted that in an urban setting such as Yaounde, the national capital, more and more landlords are sinking wells for their tenants. And systematically, the tenants draw from the well to do their washing and washing up, while reserving pipe borne water for drinking and cooking. Such a procedure helps in cutting water bills because all consumers really pay for is the tap water.
The theme of this year’s Water Day, “Water, Source of life”, constitutes a real challenge for government which must now do everything in its power to ensure that there is enough potable water for more Cameroonians. Last year’s World Water Day theme, “Water and Disasters”, was centered on ways of predicting and averting water related diseases. It will be interesting to know what will be the theme of next year’s event, or even those of subsequent years.
The truth of the matter is that water is such an indispensable commodity that the battle for it to flow for all and flow consistently must be won. For this to happen, all hands must be deck. That is when World Water Day will have a lasting impact on the people whom it is meant to serve.