Water is an essential element for human life. Without it, human life as we know would cease to exist. In America, people take water for granted: You turn the tap on then water pours. But for many people in the developing world, especially sub-Saharan Africa, access to clean water is very challenging if not impossible.
For instance, in the drought prone, volatile Horn of Africa region, Hargeisa, the capital of the Republic of Somaliland with a population of close a million people, the majority of the people have no access to piped water. For many, getting water is a daily struggle: those who are lucky enough to get water have to walk long distances to fetch clean water. In some areas of the city, expensive hotels, and hospitals are without running water, so they have to rely on water tankers for the delivery of water. People are not getting enough water to cook food, take showers, or even wash clothes. Lack of access to clean water is causing hygiene and sanitations problems. Thousands of Somalilanders get sick from contaminated water every year. According to the WHO, the average person needs 50-100 liters of water daily. While the average American uses 500 liters of water per day, yet those in Somaliland can barely find 20 liters.
According to the United Nations, water related diseases kill more people than conflicts, and nearly half of the victims are children. Every year diarrhea causes two million deaths, and 1.5 million are children. According to UNICEF bad water kills 4,000 children per day; in fact, diarrhea is the biggest killer of African children.
Accessing clean water improves hygiene, human development, and economic growth; in addition, it’s also prevents adults and children from diseases like diarrhea, cholera and polio.
The state run Hargeisa Water Agency (HWA) is responsible for managing and delivering water to the city. In 1972, China built the current water supply system for Hargeisa, when the population of the city was 150,000. HWA delivers groundwater from a location 23km north of the city; it relies on one transmission pipe, which uses gravity to deliver the water to storage bunker. The water delivery system built decades ago is crumbling and is not able to provide the water demand due to the growth of the population. As a result, the water shortages are causing political crisis among different competing communities.
But with the help of $50 million of aid from the European Union (EU), and others, the HWA is increasing water production and distribution. They’re digging new wells, installing larger transmission pipes, and more water storage places, especially in the wards of the city that receive little or no water. According to the HWA website, this expansion would increase the total water production to 20 million liters per day, by the end of 2015. But that expansion would not satisfy the water demand for all of Hargeisa’s inhabitants.
However, there are systematic problems with the HWA: The HWA is plagued with corruption and mismanagement. That left its equipment, wells and pumping stations to ruin because of lack scheduled maintenance or even no money for diesel fuel to run its power generators.
But if it HWA managed well, it should generate enough revenue not only to fund its operating budget but also for future expansion. More importantly, HWA should improve the hiring process and training of its employee. With better trained staff, HWA would be able to maintain the scheduled maintenance of its equipment, and wells.
Usually, the government has managed and delivered water and electricity to the public as a service; however, many Hargeisa residents are worried about the privatization plan over public water utilities. The EU is demanding the privatization of the water system in the entire Somaliland as a condition for funding water aid projects. And, the World Bank is also promoting water privatization for poor African countries in exchange of receiving future loans or debt relief.
Somaliland people had terrible experience with the privatization of utilities like electricity: recently, Somaliland government, without any transparent vetting process, transferred the state power utility of Hargeisa to Dahabshil group; as result, customers are now facing economic hardships because they are paying close to $2/kwh for electricity– one of the highest energy rates in Africa.
But, why is the EU or the World Bank pushing privatization of water utilities in Somaliland when, in most of its socialists member states, or even America, the local municipalities manage water delivery?
But in a commercial based water delivery system— done in backroom deals, and without transparency—the control of water goes to those who have government connections. Then the private companies would set up the price of the water and would own our natural resources. For those who can’t afford to pay higher water prices would lose access to clean water. It is dangerous to turn water into a commodity like oil and gas to be traded for profit. And, it also callous disregard for the needs of most of Somalilanders who are living in crushing poverty.
Accessing clean water in Africa is not a luxury but a survival for many people, especially the children.. The last thing Somaliland people need is a water cartel controlling the most precious natural resource: water.
Lewis Center, Ohio