Water Shortages and Water Pollution

Cameroon is richly endowed with natural water resources (see above), and the country has more than enough surface water to supply its population’s needs. Yet water remains scarce in many areas because surface water and rainfall are unevenly distributed across the country and the development of water infrastructure to distribute water to places where it is needed has lagged. Consequently, water is often in short supply in more arid regions.

Many rural areas lack pipe-borne water and must depend solely on rainwater, rivers and streams, springs, and wells for domestic water provisioning. In some cases, inhabitants of rural areas go for months without adequate water or make long treks to obtain drinking water. This situation is becoming more serious because climate change and population growth have caused many of the springs, rivers, and wells that rural inhabitants depend on to dry up or become unreliable. This poses a serious problem to the predominantly agropastoral northern regions, with their high populations of cattle, temperatures that reach 40-45°C, irregular precipitation, and frequent droughts (Fonjong, 2007a; Cheo, Voigt, and Mbua, 2013).

Water infrastructure in most cities is outdated and unable to meet current demands. In Douala and Yaounde , the two largest cities, water rationing is common. Water shortages there result from a fast-growing population coupled with limited investment in the water sector and poor management of water resources (CRTV, 2010; Ndah and Xue, 2012). The water treatment plant for the city of Yaounde , for example, was constructed in the 1980s. Its inadequate capacity leaves more than 50 percent of the population in the city without access to pipe-borne water (AEUD, 2010).

Even where water is available, it is often degraded by pollution. Water in many urban areas in Cameroon is polluted by waste from substandard housing without proper provision for waste disposal and sanitation. Nsutebu’s (1986) survey of four urban centers in Cameroon, for example, showed that 45 percent of households used pit latrines, 30 percent used water flush systems, and the rest used other methods, including the bush or buckets. Latrines and septic tanks are often of low quality and constructed too close to each other (Iwa Water Wiki, 2013). Indeed, even the capital city has no city-wide wastewater disposal and sanitation network (UN Habitat, 2013). In industrial areas, waterways, lakes, and water supplies are polluted by industrial waste, as industries use hazardous chemicals and generate chemical wastes without sufficient provision for their treatment and disposal (Fombad, 1997a; Ndjama et al., 2008; UNEP, 2009). Major sources of water pollution in rural areas include fecal bacteria from cattle or human waste, agricultural runoff of fertilizers and pesticides, dumping of solid waste in and near streams, and washing clothes and automobiles in streams. In addition, water flows in some streams are more uneven than in the past owing to deforestation of their watersheds. This makes it more difficult for streams to absorb waste during the dry season (Fombad, 1997a; Fonjong, 2006c, 2007a; Huffman, 2008).

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