Angola

Oxfam: Diary from Angola - Waiting for water

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Water is a greater concern for people in this city than electricity. And water, more than any other 'commodity', illustrates the gap between rich and poor in Luanda
My first Luandan Christmas has come and gone. At 30C and in bright summer sunshine, the men walking up and down the streets selling plastic pine trees, garlands of tinsel, and Santa Claus hats - the symbols of Christmas in northern lands - were an incongruous sight.

Happily, the threats of the municipal electricity workers to strike and plunge the city into darkness over Christmas and the New Year did not materialise: just the usual level of intermittent power failures continued through the festive period.

For the majority of Luanda's citizens, however, living in bairros far from the city centre, worrying about electricity failure would be a luxury. Most of them remain unconnected to the municipal electricity and water supplies.

Water is a greater concern for people in this city than electricity. And water, more than any other 'commodity', illustrates the gap between rich and poor in Luanda.

In Angola as a whole, there is no shortage of water. The high plateau that covers the majority of the country is verdant, and experiences heavy rains. But Luanda lies on the coast, where there is a drier, hotter climate.

During the war, many Angolans migrated from the rural areas to the city, with the result that the bairros sprawl far inland. Originally built for only a few hundred thousand people, Luanda now has an estimated population of between three and four million. The majority live in small metal-roofed huts, many kilometres from the centre.

Poor urban dwellers don't have water piped to their homes. They must buy water from the blue and yellow municipal tankers that crawl daily through the shanty towns. Depending on where you live, a bucketful could cost as much as 50 kwanzas - or one dollar - and the average family requires seven bucketfuls for cooking, drinking, and washing each day. Seven dollars per day for water alone is a huge outlay, when you consider that over 60 per cent of Angola's population currently earns less than US$1.68 per day.

Yet the streets of central Luanda are awash with water every morning: a soapy river flows down our street in the smart Bairro Azul. The reason? Every day, it seems, Luanda's wealthier citizens must have their cars scrubbed and hosed liberally. Even as, just down the road, a crowd with basins, buckets, and canisters, is awaiting the hard-earned daily distribution.