By Pamela Bongkiyung Today is World Toilet Day as enacted by the United Nations and according to worldtoiletday.org, this day is meant to inspire action towards resolving the global sanitation crisis and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. According to the United Nations, 4.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation and some over 673 million people still practise open defecation.
This year’s theme on World Toilet Day focuses on how climate change is affecting sustainable sanitation. Climate change has led to floods and drought which threaten sanitation systems such as toilets, septic tanks and treatment plants. Without water, it will be difficult to flush our toilets and treat waste hygienically. With too much water as in the case of flooding, communities will be exposed to waste and the presence of stagnant water presents other health issues such as cholera, diarrhoea and for those in the tropics, it becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes which transmit malaria, a major cause of death for many in sub-Saharan Africa.
Current Sanitation Situation in Cameroon
From the look of things Cameroon has yet to take the issue of toilets and by extension sanitation and water access seriously. Sanitation goes hand in hand with a water supply and the situation in Cameroon needs urgent address and redress. According to the World Bank’s Water Sanitation Program, ‘the water supply and sanitation sector in Cameroon is lagging behind that of many of its economic peer-group countries as, over the last 15 years, funding and hence progress have been sporadic.’ This was published in a report titled ‘Water Supply and Sanitation in Cameroon: Turning Finance into Services for 2015 and Beyond‘. The report looked into Country Status Overviews (CSO) on water supply and sanitation and was commissioned by the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW).
According to this report, sanitation has regressed between 1990 and 2008, moving from 65 per cent to 56 per cent. Cameroon continues to stagnate in improving sanitation both at the urban and rural levels. This has made the country to lag behind in reaching it’s Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is ensuring water and sanitation for all its citizens by 2030. With 10yrs to go, it looks highly unlikely this target will be achieved given how much it will cost to achieve it. The estimates in 2015 indicate that Cameroon needed investment to the tune of US$119.7 million per year on average for the 2009–15 period. The operation and maintenance of this sector are evaluated to be US$19 million per year. The investment needed from 2020 will be substantially more given inflation and Cameroon is financially stressed at the moment given the insecurity issues plaguing the country from the North with Boko Haram, the Anglophone Crisis and the East with refugees from the Central African Republic.
Climate Change and Insecurity Effect on Sanitation in Cameroon
Climate change poses a huge challenge in Cameroon as seen in heavy floods in areas which are arid and highly densely populated cities such as Douala and Yaounde. In the North of the country, floods have led to the loss of homes, livestock and grains. This is compounded by open defecation and stagnant water which has increased cases of malaria in the Extreme North Region of Cameroon. Many children are killed by malaria and the heavy rains responsible for the flood have meant the rivers do not stay within their banks but flow into areas inhabited by people. Insecurity has led to the destruction of infrastructure and toilet facilities leading to a resurgence in waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea for the internally displaced persons. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), waterborne diseases cause about 1.5 million deaths each year. The WHO has attributed 58% cause of the deaths to lack of safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.
Toilets in Public Spaces The lack of toilets in public spaces has forced people to defecate openly in Cameroon. In a town like Bamenda for example, the council has provided only four toilets in the Main Market for its 5000 traders occupying 1000 shops, including the thousands coming to buy from the market.
The state of public toilets when available are so deplorable that they become a disease trap for its users. Places like travel agencies, rest stops during travels such as Makenene, Ndikinimiki among others do not have facilities to accommodate travellers. Sometimes when the facilities are provided as is the case in Makenene, they are poorly planned that people resort to misusing them. In Makenene for example, the limited number of toilets let people urinate in the bathrooms and bathtub that were clearly meant for travellers to shower and freshen up. The lack of water to wash hands or flush the toilets after use poses great dangers for hygiene.
Rural and Urban Population Growth
The situation is getting worse due to the high population growth experienced in the major towns across the country and virtually no funding allocated to this sector. According to the Water Sanitation Program report, due to a lack of maintenance and rehabilitation, the sewerage systems in the town centres, which date from the colonial era, are blocked, whereas the newer PVC systems in the new neighbourhoods can not be used as there is no operational treatment plant. The majority of the population therefore rely on traditional toilets such as pit latrines with a slab and, perhaps, a septic tank, or even unimproved latrines. There are extreme cases of open defecation where no toilets exist especially for those who are renting and cannot change the situation by themselves.
The rural and urban sanitation are both very poor and Cameroon when compared with its peer countries, is performing below average due to the lack of functioning and actively implementing institutions to create an enabling environment to improve sanitation such as policy, strategy, implementation of standards, planning and budgeting for such programmes. According to the World Bank, Cameroon has limited itself to project studies with no advanced investment programme in place to redress the situation.
Sewage and Drainage Systems Management
According to Infrastructure Africa, Cameroon’s flush toilets or network/septic tank in service areas among its urban population has been declining since the 90s. This is based on the limited data available but with no updates in the data, there is no way to really gauge any improvements. Cameroon’s urban sanitation, unlike its rural areas, is managed by the state’s Camwater and Camerounaise Eaux (CdE) with the former leasing a contract to the latter to oversee the management of wastewater sewerage systems and the stormwater drainage. From every indication, Camwater and CdE have not been active in the sanitation and sewage area as required. The Water Sanitation Program report commissioned by the AMCOW indicates that Camwater and CdE have neither carried out an inventory of existing facilities nor monitor the access rate. The Ministry of Urban Development and Habitat is also tasked with some responsibilities where the stormwater drainage is concerned.
It will appear that Cameroon is still not prioritising sanitation as on Monday, 16th November 2020, the Minister of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Alamine Ousmane Mey launched the National Development Strategy for 2020/2030. This strategy’s reform is geared towards addressing the economic and development challenges of the country, with a reference for Cameroon’s emergence drive.
The report on ‘Water Supply and Sanitation in Cameroon: Turning Finance into Services for 2015 and Beyond‘ advises that for the situation to improve, users’ willingness to pay for sanitation should be encouraged to increase it. It outlines priority actions for urban sanitation and hygiene to ensure that there is a clear distinction between urban sanitation as relates to wastewater management and drainage which is linked to stormwater; develop strategic plans for sanitation in urban areas and establish an agreement with those in charge of concession areas to implement the actions set out in the strategic plan.