Aaron Kaah Yancho
October 26, 2014
In the city of Bamenda, in Cameroon, there is nothing abnormal with renowned boarding schools disposing their human wastes in a nearby stream. But as a result of this irresponsible garbage management, the smell of effluent hangs in the air and it’s certainly upsetting to residents and visitors there.
“This is part of the social crisis we face every day in the city,” Njuakom Philip, a resident of Bamenda laments.
Bamenda is one of Cameroons’ fast growing cities with some 800.000 inhabitants. Overtime achieving access to basic forms of sanitation and safe water in this city has been a tough battle for the city authorities.
Proper sanitation guarantees a health environment and sustains human existence and development but in Bamenda more than 90% of the people there have no access to basic forms of sanitation. This is worrying.
Environmental experts like those at the Society for the Promotion of Better Earth attribute this situation to lack of basic education on how sanitation can eradicate poverty and misery in communities.
“We are lagging behind in educating people on the basic forms and needs of sanitation.” Dr. Michael Ngu of the Society for Promotion of Better Earth says.
Visitors to Bamenda have always wondered how residents of this city survive using water from sources contaminated with effluent. Like several other visitors, Solange Nschange says she finds this situation, “shocking and annoying.”
Over the recent years in Bamenda as well as in villages across North West Cameroon statistics have indicated that bad altitude and ignorance have been responsible for social and environmental problems encountered by the people.
But also in several other urban centers in Cameroon, open defecation along streets or emptying household residues and garbage on streets and in gutters is nothing new.
“Human wastes at all times contaminate streams and the limited portable water sources,” a Bamenda three council staff George Moforsa laments.
This water is then used to clean bikes and vehicles which transport the city dwellers. George fears this can lead to a vicious cycle of disease infections.
Then there are other troubles heaped on forgotten city blocks where hustlers and prostitutes congregate. Life here brings with it a constant strive just to exist.
“In these blocks pools of stagnant water beside roofless latrines are many, fresh graves dug besides ancient wells are a style.” George further narrates.
According to an NGO fighting for the protection of livelihoods in Cameroon under the banner of WA Cameroon, for these inhabitants diseases are common and in every second, poverty and misery has a human face and name.
“We see women who are suffering and living in abject poverty as a result of poor sanitation and water needs in all neighborhoods,” says Judith Awondo, who coordinates the gender project in this NGO.
The city’s lone slaughter house is weighed down by age and absence of a veterinary officer to check its sanitation facilities makes matters worse as water from nearby streams is constantly used to wash meat meant for human consumption.
“The fact that no one cares means the worst is yet to come,” Solange Nschange remarks.
The scarcity of land and the poor drainage system in the city are other factors affecting sanitation according to the local council authorities.
Constant erosions and lack of proper waste disposal scheme fosters the vicious cycle of poverty. “This is not only a sanitation crises but an environmental disaster yet policymakers are only focused on maintaining their political seats while all these issues get ignored,” George of remarks.
But, according to Dr. Ali Festus, a Development Expert in Bamenda says significant change can only come through collaboration between policymakers and the local people.
“Experience has also confirmed that education is a key factor in helping people to find a solution to their crisis,” he insists.
Dr Festus also underscores the importance of community media in tackling this social problem.
He says community media has a daunting task to reinforcing the importance of sanitation and water for human health and development.
Also a strategy by local council authorities in Bamenda, Cameroon to award cash prizes to the best neighborhoods in terms of sanitation and hygiene is paying off miraculously.
“Thanks to this that a moral code for sanitation and water is emerging slowly across the city,” Dr Festus says.