By Omar A J Saho
The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa. The country has a geographical area of 11, 300sq Kilometer with a total population of 2.28 million people (World Bank, 2020). The economy of the country depends on agriculture, tourism, and fishing. Agriculture and tourism employees the majority of Gambians and thus contribute immensely to the country’s economy (Jobe, 2016). The main source of potable water and other uses such as cooking, bathing, agriculture, and recreational purposes is groundwater (Melissa N, 2014). Potable water is extracted from both the deep and shallow aquifers in The Gambia to serve the domestic needs of citizens. Gambia’s annual overall water withdrawal is estimated to be around 0.1 km3 which is below 1.5% of the total estimated annual 6.5 km3 of renewable water potential (Africa Development Bank, 2018).
Despite the huge availability of water resources in the Gambia, realizing efficient and reliable water supply for drinking and sanitation is still a major challenge in the country. Inadequate water supply and poor sanitation account for 13.5% of deaths in the country (UN Water, 2013). World Health Organization’s global health disability-adjusted life year report revealed that the Gambia has an estimated number of 62,900 water-borne disease cases (WHO, 2016). Poverty and the higher cost of paying for state supplied water make some citizens to stick with their untreated open well for drinking and household sanitation usage.
According to the National Water and Electricity Company 2016 annual report, the company has an estimated 69 operational boreholes producing about 108,000 cubic meters of water drinking on a daily basis (NAWEC, 2016). The stated produced water is what is distributed for domestic use in most parts of the Greater Banjul Area and part of the Kombos. Upscaling the supply and distribution of water across the entire countrywide still remained a huge development hurdle in The Gambia. A study by Ingram et al. (2018) discovered that 32 % of people in the rural communities do not have access to reliable water supply, while just 12 % of people in the urban areas are also without reliable drinking water. This percentage revealed rural-urban water disparity. The issues of safe drinking water unavailability in some parts of the country continued to affect the socio-economic development and sanitation need of citizens in those communities. Because women have to walk long distances to fetch water from wells or nearby public local hand pumps of the village, in the process of which they spend a large part of their daily routine fetching water for domestic use. By looking at the national spending water sector, the Gambia government spent 2.1 % of the national expenditure on developing water supply in the country from 1999 – 2011 (UN Water, 2013).
Institutional and Legal Frameworks
The Gambia government’s quest to provide safe drinking water led to the enactment of national legislative acts and ratifying international covenants. Section 216 of the national constitution recognized equitable access to water has a fundamental right for Gambian citizens. (Gambia Constitution, 1997). Institutional and legislative measures related to water and sanitation can be traced back to 1979 when the Gambia government established the national water resources council (National Water Resource Council Act, 1979). Some of the key national water-related legislation and institutional milestones are the establishment of National Water Resource Council in 1979, creation of Department of Water Resources (DWR) in 1981, the establishment of National Public Health Act in 1990, Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) was established to oversee water tariffs and pricing of other services in 2001, and in 2006, the Gambia government adapt the national water policy (World Bank, 2011).
In addition, the Gambia government also ratified the 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights on December 19, 1978. Considering the fact that the Gambia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the government agreed to implement the stipulations of Article 11 and Article 12 of the covenant. Article 11 of the covenant states that member countries should ensure that every citizen should have “the right to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family” (OHCRH, 2020). In addition, Article 12 of the covenant highlights that member states to “recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” (OHCRH, 2020). This is means that the Gambia should make necessary efforts to the provision of potable water and sanitation facilities for its citizens.
Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
Notwithstanding the Gambia government’s effort of registering some progress in providing water and sanitation service some portion of the citizens. The country needs to advance its efforts to lessen the rural-urban inequality gap of water and sanitation service. In addition, pursuant to International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Gambia government needs to further strengthen it effort in providing affordable, reliable, and safe potable water for all Gambians regardless of citizen’s social or economic status and geographical location in the country (Jobe, 2016). In this regard, the government needs to further consolidate its effort to proving sufficient funding on the water and sanitation service sector of the nation.
The government needs also to set up a robust water and sanitation framework and work towards achieving targets outline by the framework. This may include ensuring that both rural and urban communities have an equal level of access to drinking water, strengthen the institutional and operational capacities of government institutions overseeing water and sanitation service in the country, coupled with improving the national budget that is allocated to ensure water and sanitation service in the country (UNEP-DHI, 2009).
The Department of Water Resource, Public Utility Regulatory Agency, and National Water and Electricity Company should work on developing a nationwide water and sanitation campaign, to raise the awareness of citizens to install water-efficient appliances in their households. This will help conserve the amount of water uses by individuals and households. According to the NAWEC 2016 annual report, the company registered a total of 1004 confirmed water leakages across the country (NAWEC, 2016). The Department of Water Resource together with NAWEC needs to work on water conservation measures by conducting a periodic assessment of pipelines and perform repairment of aging water pipes and as well fix leakages. Furthermore, considering the fact that there is no existing practice of toll-free telephone or online water complaint procedure in the country, the maintenance team of NAWEC needs to have in place a toll-free reporting telephone line for citizens to report water leakages and any other water and sanitation-related complaints. This will help minimize the quality of water spillage and ensure timely response by the maintenance team of the National Water and Electricity Company.
The 2016 annual report of NAWEC revealed that most of the boreholes in the country are used beyond their lifespan, thus resulting in low yield, and as the presence of fine sand and silt waters (NAWEC, 2016). This suggests that boreholes under such conditions need to be replaced or require repairment, which cannot be achieved without the necessary financial investment by the government and having in water system engineers. The government, therefore, needs to improve its investment on borehole replacement, and also consider upscaling the presence of boreholes and public taps in other parts of the country. Presently the country has a total number of 62 operational boreholes in the country which is not meeting the water and sanitation needs of Gambians (NAWEC, 2016). The Gambia government needs to further endeavor in establishing additional boreholes, public taps, hand pumps, and protected wells in the country for it meet the water and sanitation rights of its citizens and as fulfill its international commitment to human economic, social, and cultural rights of Gambians.
By considering the estimated 62, 900 water-borne related DALY diarrhea cases in the Gambia, the government needs to address the issues of people drinking from open wells, by strengthening water treatment infrastructures, water screening, and treatment process against all forms of microbial and toxins. A safety net program needs to be established by the legislature to help support underprivileged families. The safety net program needs to be backed by political commitment and be implemented by the government institutions who are water custodians in the country. Hence, this report recommends that the Gambia government needs to implement a subsidization program which ensures that families within certain financial threshold do not have their water service disconnected due to payment issue. This will not only help address the issue of water service disconnection, but it will allow the government to look into preventive measures such as charging households based on their income-level or sensitizing citizens about optimal water usage.
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