Molyko, Southwest Region - Buea, Cameroon


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Water and Public Health Risk: The Case Of Foumbot Noun Division

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Water remains one of the world’s precious resources yet very limited to sustain the Billion population living on planet earth. It is also one of the factors which is ever taken into consideration by most settlers after a piece of land has been acquired for a settlement purpose. In the past decades, most settlers competed over locations which were next to a water catchment. Even where there were no water catchment, people try to create artificial water channels to serve their domestic, economic and industrial activities. A good example is the Suez Canal constructed in the Northern Border of Africa to facilitate various activities. The presence of reliable portable water entails good health to the population as well as booming economic activities. There is no country where economic activities can get flourish without a healthy population and the state of health depends more on the availability and the quality of water. In Africa, the dwindling of water catchment areas is already creating conflicts like what is happening between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Nile River. There are some city which will soon run out of drinking water like Cape Town, Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo as well as Foumbot in Cameroon. The rationale behind the dwindling of water resources is not only due to natural phenomena but there are also human interference which is totally awful.

Lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene remains one of the world’s most urgent health issues. Almost one tenth of the global disease burden could be prevented by improving water supply, sanitation, hygiene and management of water resources. Ensuring poor people’s access to safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation and encouraging personal, domestic and community hygiene will improve the quality of life of millions of individuals. Better managing water resources to reduce the transmission of vector-borne diseases (such as viral diseases carried by mosquitoes) and to make water bodies safe for recreational and other uses can save many lives and has extensive direct and indirect economic benefits, from the micro-level of households to the macro-perspective of national economies (WHO, 2008).

A staggering, 1 billion people (15% of the world population) remain with no access to toilets, latrines or any form of sanitation facility, and have no other choice than to defecate in the open, resulting in high levels of environmental contamination and exposure to the risks of microbial infections, diarrheal diseases (including cholera), trachoma, schistosomiasis and hepatitis.

According to the UNESCO (2020), encouraging progress has been made in the water sector. More 1.9 million people has gained access to improved sanitation but the alarming population growth rate remains a nightmare to this sector

Africa faces mounting challenges in providing enough safe water for its growing population, especially for the huge numbers of people migrating to peri-urban areas, where municipal water services are often non-existent. The continent is the luckiest on Earth to be facing minor challenges on the Covid 19 pandemic. If the diseases were to proliferate like in some developed countries, the whole continent could have been wipe out due to poor sanitation caused by limited water resources. (UNICEF, 2020). Regardless of health purposes, other challenges include avoiding potential conflicts over water in the 63 water basins on the continent shared by two or more countries; adapting to the impacts of climate change on water resources, which will be greater than most other regions because Africa already suffers from extreme rainfall variability; and developing water resources that are adequate for local needs but that are unavailable due to political and economic constraints.

Water is essential for life and good health. Fresh water is not only needed for drinking but also cooking, food production, and a variety other uses such sanitation, hygiene and cleanliness practices. Sanitation can force people to defecate in the open, in rivers and near areas where children play. This habit results in 115 deaths every hour in the African region.  Bacteria, viruses, parasites and pollution contaminate fresh water stores, resulting in water scarcity.

Lack of clean water increases the risk of diarrheal diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery, and other water borne tropical diseases. Water scarcity can also lead to diseases such as trachoma (an eye infection that can lead to blindness), plague and typhus.

Water scarcity affects 1 in 3 people in the African region and is getting worse with population growth, urbanization and increase in household and industrial uses. Water scarcity often encourages people to store water in their homes. This can increase the risk of household water contamination and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

The Millennium Development Goal’s safe water target is to reduce by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water. Africa as a whole will not reach the MDG drinking water target. Worldwide, over 884 million people have no access to drinking water from improved sources. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than a third of that number, with about 330 million people without access to safe drinking water. Africa’s progress towards the MDG drinking water target is slow and uneven, and the continent as a whole will not reach the goal. Although the proportion of people in sub-Saharan Africa using improved sources of drinking water increased by 14 per cent from 1990 to 2008, only 60 per cent of its population had such access by the end of that period (WHO/UNICEF 2010). Based on current trends, sub-Saharan Africa will not reach the MDG water target until 2040 (UNDP 2006a). A recent survey revealed a bleak future in which only two countries (Kenya and South Africa) are estimated to have more than 75 per cent of what is needed to achieve the sanitation target, and five countries are estimated to have more than 75 per cent of what is needed to achieve the MDG target for drinking water (WHO and UN-Water 2010). There are large disparities in the provision of safe water: sub-Saharan Africa has by far the lowest coverage rates of piped water among world regions (50 per cent) (WHO/UNICEF 2010). The increase in numbers of people with access to other improved sources of drinking water was 3.5 times higher than the rise in people with piped water on premises. Only five per cent of the rural population receives piped water in their homes compared to 35 per cent of urban dwellers (WHO/UNICEF 2010)


Limited access to water means that Africa has a high incidence of water-related disease: The incidence of water-related and waterborne diseases such as cholera, malaria, Guinea worm and river blindness is high in Africa, mainly due to limited access to water and sanitation. Schistosomiasis (or bilharzia) is endemic in a total of 46 countries (Boelee and Madsen 2006). During the wet season in 2005, 14 303 cases of cholera were diagnosed and 252 people eventually died in Guinea-Bissau alone (Bordalo and Savva-Bordalo 2007). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 0.75 cases of diarrhea per person worldwide every year. This rate varies between regions. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate, with 1.29 cases per person annually. In contrast, rates in Europe and the United States are 0.18 and 0.07 cases per person per year, respectively (Lewin and others 2007). The lack of safe water is debilitating to the economy: In economic terms, the lack of proper water and sanitation services in developing countries translates into the loss of revenues and the inability to generate and sustain livelihoods, due in large part to the debilitating effects of water-related disease. In addition, the time and energy lost in hauling water from long distances, predominantly undertaken by women and girls, deprives them of time to engage in livelihood generating activities and attending school.

Water pollution affects drinking water, rivers, lakes and oceans all over the world, which consequently harms human health and the natural environment. Water pollution include sewage and waste water, industrial waste, oil pollution, marine dumping, atmospheric deposition, radioactivewaste, underground storage leakages, global warming, eutrophication etc. (Gambhir et al., 2012).

Water pollution may not cause immediate effect on the health of the individual but can prove fatal in the long run. Heavy metals from industrial processes can accumulate in nearby lakes and rivers, proving harmful to the marine animals, other animals consuming this toxic water and humans using animal products. Toxins in industrial waste can cause immune suppression, reproductive failure or acute poisoning. Microbial pollutants from sewage often result in infectious diseases like cholera and typhoid fever which are the primary cause of infant mortality (Water Pollution Guide, retrieved from

Within the context of cities in Cameroon which are witnessing constant population growth, access to water through taps is a luxury which only a few inhabitants can afford. With the population growth and the urban sprawling, connecting running water throughout the city requires expanding the water supply network, which the city councils and the government cannot afford. Therefore, many urban dwellers resort to various water sources of poor quality. Unsafe water is often contaminated with faecal material, domestic and industrial wastes. Such polluted water results in an increased risk of transmission of disease to individuals (WHO, 2015) Diarrhoeal diseases are often caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and poor hygiene. In Cameroon, diarrhoeal diseases are the most prevalent waterborne diseases among children aged less than five years. In Yaoundé, for example, the prevalence of diarrhoea is increasing. Results of studies conducted in the city among children aged less than five years showed that the rate of prevalence increased from 10.8% in 1998 to 13.1% in 2004 (ResearchGate, 2016) Epidemiological investigations can provide strong evidence linking exposure to the occurrence of diseases in a population and also estimate the magnitude of risk related to a particular exposure. This study, therefore, sought to assess the problem of access to drinking-water in Yaoundé.

Current and emerging water challenges are not sufficiently resolved through existing legislation and governance structure. Sustainable management of Cameroon’s freshwater resources, specifically the freshwater resources of Foumbot, should be proactively addressed by identifying and addressing policy gaps and governance issues. Additionally, the development of a national water policy that has support from multiple stakeholder groups and is capable of adaptive change, considering new information and challenges, will facilitate sustainable development, because a water policy that incorporates the principle of managing water across sectors will promote sustainable use of the resource in the various sectors. Thus, economic development will be allowed that will not negatively impact the ecological functions of the natural resource or the social wellbeing of water users. Foumbot has been selected as the area of study to develop an understanding of governance and policy-related water challenges in Cameroon. Several characteristics of Foumbot contributed to this area being selected as the case study for this research. One such factor is its economic significance to Cameroon’s development. Quite a considerable amount of Cameroon’s agriculture production comes from the West Region, which includes Foumbot. If Cameroon maintains her giant position in the world market in terms of agricultural products, one of the areas to be credited is the Foumbot (Kuit, 2008). Thus, any water challenge that reduces agriculture productivity will affect sustainable development in Foumbot. In addition to its economic importance, this Region is very important to the stability of the social system of Cameroon because over 40% of the population lives in Foumbot.

Cameroon is endowed with abundant water resources. From Lake Chad in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, it has numerous rivers, lakes and springs. In fact, Cameroon has Africa’s largest hydro-electric potential after the DRC. But in most parts of the country, there is little safe drinking water. That leads people to unsafe water from wells and streams.

The availability of safe drinking water is an increasing major concern for the Foumbot community especially in light of changing climate depleting biodiversity. Access to safe drinking water for domestic use has become a major challenge in Foumbot with its increase population, booming economic activities, advance technology and increase demand for water. Man’s searched for diet, farming activities and deforestation has also fueled climatic crisis that is affecting the quantity and the quality of the drinking water in this area. The government of Cameroon is struggling to cater for the water need of the population of this area even though the strategy put in place does not meet the population need. Most of the inhabitants depend on fresh underground water from springs and rivers. Foumbot being a volcanic area has so many volcanic cones which serve as the source of fresh water at the lower part of the valleys. Settlement has encroached toward these springs which cause a serious threat to clean drinking water. Safety of both aquatic and human life becomes a major concern. Hence water resource assessment need to be treated with care in this area so as to enhance the quality and quality of water supply in this area.

Statement of the problem

Research Questions

Main research question

The main research question of this study is: What relationship exist between water quality and public health risks in Foumbot town?

Specific research questions

The following specific research questions have been formulated to guide this study

1-How is the water quality consumed in Foumbot?

2-What are the associated health risks of poor water quality in Foumbot?

3-What are the physical factors affecting the quality of water in Foumbot?

4-What are the anthropogenic factors affecting the quality of water in Foumbot?

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