People fetching drinking water in Sierra Leone. Source: Punch newspaper


Africa is the wealthiest continent globally in terms of natural resources. (Bright, 2012). Arable lands, oil, natural gas, minerals, forests, and water are some of the available resources in the continent. (UNEP, 2017). The global statistics state that over seven hundred and eighty-three million people don’t have access to clean water globally. Forty percent of that population lives in sub-Saharan Africa. (Leah, 2019). How come close to one billion people don’t have access to clean water in a continent that hosts 9 percent of the world’s fresh and clean water?. Here are some key facts & statistics about clean water and sanitation access in the African continent:

Fourteen countries are already experiencing water stress and will be joined by more by 2025 (WWF, 2021), over 800 people die yearly in Africa due to water-related diseases. Africa’s sanitation decreased by 6 percent in 2020 and it is losing 5 percent of its GDP every year.

One of the primary causes of poverty in a country is water-related problems. When water is not available in a household, it urges the residents to collect it 4 to 5 times a day, creating less space for income-generating activities. (Alexander, 2020). Countries like Uganda, Eretria, Madagascar, Somalia, Sierra Leone, etc., are already facing severe water issues, and we expect more to join them. Access to sanitation is rapidly decreasing, and as of 2021, only 27 percent of the African population has access to sanitation. We lose over 3000 children per day, and people are really struggling. However, some countries have adopted specific solutions, and they have been gradually moving towards achieving SDG 6. Nevertheless, some countries are still behind including Sierra Leone, so what are the issues surrounding their access to clean water and sanitation, and how can they achieve the united nations sustainable development goal number six?

What is the problem?
Sierra Leone is a country with over 8,230,000 population and it’s among the least populated countries in Africa. Gaining independence on the 27th of April 1961, Sierra Leone was declared a republic in 1971. However, they experienced a bloody civil war that ended after 11 years due to governmental instability. People died, properties were lost and damaged, children were left to mourn the death of their parents, and most of the people that survived were suffocating from the flames left behind by the rebels. 

Soldiers shooting during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Source: BBC

The most affected sector was the infrastructure, roads were damaged, and the rebels brought buildings down. This left the country without water points and toilet facilities, which led to massive sickness and diseases. Fast-forward to 2005, Sierra Leoneans became dependent on three ways to get water, and these three ways are: well or river water, rainwater, and tap water. (Bieubien, 2021). According to statistics, Sierra Leone has 12 river basins, over 500 sub-rivers, and 1,498 recorded wells, and these wells and rivers are used by over 90 percent of the rural and urban population. The most reliable way to get clean water in Sierra Leone is by waiting for the rain, and it helps a vast number of the population together with the 1.5 million taps that supply only 2 percent of their people.

However, access to sanitation is also a significant issue in the country. Its statistics are also a call for concern. Fifteen percent of the population have access to suitable toilet facilities, 16.5 have access to basic sanitation, 37.9 shares the same toilet facilities, 29.2 lacks proper latrines, and only 1.4 percent have access to good handwashing facilities. As of 2021, Sierra Leone still faces these issues and wonders how come only 2 percent of 8 million people have access to clean water?

How did the problem manifest itself?
In 2005, the ministry of water and sanitation resources in Sierra Leone tried to know the country’s level of access to clean water and sanitation. The research was done through surveys, and it included 12 communities in the urban areas and 14 districts and towns. The result shows that 53 percent of the rural population lacks access to clean water, and 92 percent lacks sanitation. Eighty percent of the urban people don’t have access to water. However, 20 percent have access to it, but it is unclean. Fast-forward to 2015, 63 percent of the total population had access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. In 2021, the project manager at the water and sanitation ministry reported a considerable water shortage because they are currently trying to improve the facilities. The country has one main dam now, which means there will be water rationing. This forced people to switch to rainwater and start digging wells, but the need for clean water caused chaos. As of July 2021, less than 1 percent of them had access to clean water and improved sanitation, which has negatively impacted the people. It has reduced human well-being, contributed to 12 percent of malaria in the country, and most importantly, has caused an economic decline. (Heijnen et al., 2014).

A young woman comes with water from streams. Source: Sierra Leone Telegraph

What has been done?

As the cry for clean water and improved sanitation increases, the government of Sierra Leone and some NGOs decided to step up with some solutions. The government brought two Guma valley water companies and the Sierra Leone water company. Guma Valley was responsible for providing clean water to urban communities, while SALWACO was responsible for rural communities. However, these two organizations failed to achieve their desired goals due to some challenges they faced on the way, and that left the government with no choice but to go back to the drawing board. Up till now, they haven’t gotten any sustainable solution.

Nevertheless, some NGOs made some impacts, but none were sustainable either. The water 4 organization completed 94 water projects, completed over 300 boreholes in communities and schools, and impacted 42,900 lives. However, over three projects succeeded in drilling boreholes and building latrines, yet it was not sustainable. Ask yourself what the main issue for their failure is?.

A game-changing action & why
Moving forward, the implementation of a kiosk water system, provision of proper sanitation, and most importantly, sanitation education will be a very sustainable solution in Sierra Leone, and here is how & why.

Since the rural communities have many boreholes and wells, the government needs to construct at least three kiosks in each town and village and urban communities with connecting pipes or taps from the boreholes and wells so people can fetch clean drinking from the kiosk. They should also build structured toilet facilities and provide good handwashing facilities. Nevertheless, none of these will be sustainable if the people don’t know the importance of what they have. Therefore, they need to organize workshops to educate the people about sanitation.

However, another option is to partner with NGOs that can help fast-track the process, and an example of an NGO will be ACWI – SOLUTION. This partnership will help increase the percentage of people that have access to clean water to 40 percent by 2030, as that is the mission of ACWI. According to their vision, it will also provide good toilet facilities to over 25 percent of the population and they will educate over 70 percent of the people during these times. To achieve sustainability, the government should partner with ACWI-SOLUTION and save lives.

Woman fetching from water kiosk. Source: Wikimedia

Literature review Infographic 

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