Health and Nutrition
by Serena Williams, Kribi, Cameroon
My drinking water is treated at the local water-processing plant. However, this does not prevent frequent brown particles—soil—from entering into the system. Our water travels through pipes that are buried in the earth. There are some points along the piping system with identified weaknesses. For example, they may broken down in the past, which lends to increased difficulty when there are heavy rains. Yet, the filtering process of the SNEC (Societe Nationale des Eaux du Cameroun) has proven sufficient for most, if not all, of my neighbors, and no additional measures are taken to purify the water. I remember the first time I saw the brown particles in my water. I was so afraid that it was completely unusable—especially after I boiled it and the brown settled to the bottom of the pot like algae. When I asked one of my neighbors about the origin and nature of the stuff, she laughed at me, saying it was "just dirt." Indeed it was just dirt, which I have since learned to live with.
by Karen McClish, Belita II, East Province, Cameroon
My drinking water is not "fresh." The children are constantly sick with different waterborne illnesses. My neighbors know that they should boil their water to kill these critters and prevent their families from getting sick, but that takes time and energy (find the wood, start the fire, boil the water...). Not to mention that they would need to boil water for 10 to 15 people, the average family size here. So they don't do anything and they continue to get ill.
The water pump at the health center has been chlorinated and the water is safe to drink, but it is far from town, where everyone lives, and we have to pay to take water from there. However, the price to take water for a month is less than one day of medicines to treat amoebic dysentery.
by Maryanne Pribila, Bogo, Extreme North Province, Cameroon
Bogo is a large community and, as such, has a variety of water sources. During the rainy season, one side of the town turns into a lake. Herdsmen bring their cattle there to drink, and people bathe, wash their clothes, and drink from it. It is said to have a good taste, but I wouldn't want to try it myself.
by Madhuri Kasat, Garey, Extreme North Province, Cameroon
Forages and wells are generally treated with bleach once a year. Forages are covered and thus the water is not usually contaminated as it rushes out of the pump. While forage water is potable, well water is not. Wells in Garey are not covered unless in a private concession. But people prefer the taste of well water over forage water, as well water is "softer" (it has less mineral deposits).
Annual water treatments do not prevent outbreaks of typhoid and cholera. While the education to boil all water (regardless of its source) before drinking has been embraced by some community members, most people drink water directly from the forage.
River water is fresh only up to the instant it lands in already-contaminated pools or, if pouring into a completely dry riverbed, to the moment people flock to it to bathe or wash dishes and clothes. People urinate or defecate in the river waters. This is the prime route for disease to pass into the water and for others to ingest it via drinking or via flukes that penetrate a bather's skin and cause the disease schistosomiasis.
by Lea Loizos, Bati, West Providence, Cameroon
Although I often hear people in the village distinguishing between drinking water and regular water, their idea of clean water is based on what looks clean, a practice that is not always reliable. And even though they may go out of their way to get to a "cleaner" source, the way they retrieve the water and their methods of storage can end up contaminating the water. For example, I've noticed that most people have a certain cup or gourd they use specifically to retrieve drinking water from its designated pot in the house. The problem is that people will often drink directly from the cup and then put it back in the water, which can easily spread germs.
During the rainy season, people may drink the rainwater they collect off their roofs. Although it may be clean, it can easily be contaminated by flies or by a dirty storage container. As a result, people in the village are often ill with chronic parasite problems and sometimes even more serious illnesses such as hepatitis and typhoid. A large problem is that they are unaware of how diseases are passed through water.
Personally, I boil my water for a few minutes to kill any parasites or microbes. And although I try to persuade my neighbors and friends in the village to do the same, it is hard to get them to understand the importance—especially because boiling their water would mean using more firewood—something that is already becoming scarce.
by Brooke Levandowski, Buea, Southwest Providence, Cameroon
In Buea, the water is purified and distributed by SNEC (Societe Nationale des Eaux du Cameroon). The water is collected in a catchment at the sources, called the German Spring and the Mosel Spring. From the springs, it is pumped into the water treatment facility. First, chlorine is added and the water flows into a holding tank. It is oxidized and then undergoes sand filtration. The water is then transferred into a holding tank until pumped to the various quarters of Buea. The facility purifies 6,000 cubic meters a day, treated with eight kilograms of chlorine a day. Other areas of Cameroon need to add more chemicals to purify their water, but since the water from these springs is so fresh, only chlorine is necessary.