GUINEA: Working to Provide Water and Electricity For All By Moustapha Keita
Guinea enjoys more rainfall than any other country in West Africa; the country is known as the water tower of the sub-region, with the headwaters of the Niger, Senegal and Gambia rivers all found within its borders. The country’s many rivers and tributaries should be valuable assets for the provision of fresh water, extensive irrigation agriculture, and large-scale hydroelectric power generation.
But despite its natural resources, this country of 10.6 million people faces problems providing adequate electricity and access to clean water for its development. With support from international lenders, Guinea is working to improve the potable water supply and to refurbish and extend the electricity network in the capital, Conakry, and beyond.
Successive regimes have promised water and electricity for all, but problems persist. In May 2009, the then-military government launched a campaign to drill boreholes throughout the poorer neighbourhoods of Conakry, and, in the words of a former government official, "put an end to the sorry spectacle of hundreds of women and children, basins and buckets in hand, in a perpetual search for water".
Guinea faces acute problems in the supply of clean water and electricity to its citizens, slowing the country's economic development.
But that project has not yielded the expected results due to a lack of external financing. Corruption, which has plagued the management of the water and electricity sectors, has also contributed to the failure of the programme, according to analysts.
A current report from the Energy Ministry shows that Guinea's electricity supply is still characterised by decrepit equipment, high production costs, a high level of debt, and a lack of managerial capacity amongst officials.
Guinea's new government, elected in a close contest at the end of 2010, is making fresh efforts to provide the country with better facilities to put an end to both frequent power cuts and long-standing water shortages in this country where half of the population lives in poverty, according to a 2010 report by the United Nations Development Programme.
"We have drawn up and initiated Guinea's Fourth Water Project," said Energy Minister Papa Koly Kourouma.
The project aims to improve infrastructure for production, bulk transfer, storage and distribution of water, including the refurbishing of 15,000 existing public water points. In the Kakimbo neighbourhood of the capital, four boreholes with a total capacity of 4,000 cubic metres per day will be drilled.
Kouroma said the project will cover all 33 urban centres in the country by 2015, increasing the supply of clean water in Conakry from 40 to 63 litres per person per day, and to 55 litres per person in other urban areas.
The project will cost 15.7 million dollars, with funding from the Islamic Development Bank. "Considering all the efforts being made here and there, there is good reason to be hopeful," the minister told journalists in February.
In the energy sector, work on rehabilitating and extending the electricity network in Conakry is in progress, co-financed by the IDB and the African Development Bank at a cost of around 265 million dollars. New thermal power plants for the capital will also be built.
But Guineans have expressed reservations about the work in progress.
Ramatoulaye Barry, a sociology student at the University of Conakry, wants to see the projects actually carried out.
"I hope that these efforts will be successful and that people will no longer be provoked to demonstrate their frustration violently. An armed officer was killed recently during protests against a power cut that occurred during the broadcast of the first match of the national football team at the African Cup of Nations (in Gabon in January)."
Mamady Touré, from the non-governmental organisation "Guinée Is Back", questions the plans themselves. "Boreholes are a temporary solution," he told IPS. "But generally in our country, temporary becomes permanent." Touré's group wants more permanent solutions, like a water supply network that is truly modern, from production to distribution to households.
Rachid Sylla, an engineer specialising in borehole drilling, cautions that the current plans for urban water supply also have some drawbacks. "If there is major, localised pumping (of underground water reserves), it could lead to buildings cracking," he told IPS.
"Boreholes were drilled across Conakry with abandon by the military regime, which didn't bother with the necessary technical studies. I hope that the current government will take careful account of these parameters in its water supply project."
For Alpha Camara, a retired official of the public water utility, Société des Eaux de Guinée, "It is imperative to begin a programme to build hydroelectric dams. And in rural areas, while waiting for the construction of micro-dams, we need to drill modern wells for potable water and to install equipment to capture solar energy." (END)