ABIDJAN, 19 January 2012 (IRIN) - A severe shortage of clean drinking water in parts of Côte d'Ivoire is reaching critical levels and threatening public health, say residents and officials.
"Today. uncontrolled urbanization is one the main causes of water scarcity. The continued decline in the quality of groundwater reserves will increase the risk of it being polluted. For now, we cannot use this water for public use. This means we will experience severe water shortages, especially in the economic capital [Abidjan] if nothing is done to tackle the problem. The difficulties we face now are small compared to what lies ahead," warned Marius Kouassi Aka, a water science researcher at the University of Abidjan.
Rapidly growing demand for water in Abidjan - partly as a result of the influx of people into the city during the civil war - has stretched water supplies: "The district of Abidjan has only a dozen wells. The technical facilities are overwhelmed," said Hilary Kinimo, SODECI [ http://www.sodeci.com/ ] (state water company) regional director for Abidjan North, adding that three new boreholes were due to be completed in June.
SODECI said the problems in the north of the country were due to poor maintenance of water supply systems resulting from years of political strife.
In the northern town of Dabakala taps have been dry for 12 days, obliging residents to seek unsafe alternatives.
"We are forced to go into the creeks to supply ourselves," said Daouda Soro, a teacher in this town of some 20,000 residents.
By going into the creeks, said Ibrahim Touré, a doctor at Abobo General Hospital in Abidjan, people risked contracting guinea worm - a debilitating disease caused by a roundworm present in stagnant swamps, lakes, lagoons and rivers. The disease was officially eradicated in 2007 but re-emerged during the civil war.
Another risk is cholera, which tended to emerge in January every year, he said. The disease can also be spread by street vendors who sell water of dubious quality.
The situation is similar in the western towns of Guiglo and Duékoué. In Abidjan shortages are acute in some areas such as Niangon (in Yopougon District). Here Florence Djedje has not had a drop of tap water for at least three months, forcing her and others like building contractor Bernadin N'Guessan to buy water from street vendors. "This is the first time we have had to live like this," N'Guessan said.
In the southern Abidjan district of Port-Bouet 100,000 people recently took to the streets demanding clean drinking water.
Touré said the sale by street vendors of "drinking" water in plastic sachets should be banned. He urged residents to boil and filter water meant for drinking.
In the nearby town of Adjamé, seven people died and 35 others were hospitalized because of cholera in 2011.
"The fear is that we will have another tragedy like that; it may not be cholera, but there are diarrhoeal diseases such as gastro-enteritis one can contract due to drinking poor quality water," said Innocent Kouamé, a nurse at the Abobo Community Health Centre.