"Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink." So goes a line from the famous epic poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the 18th century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
he line is uttered by a sailor aboard a drifting ship, when they find themselves in a vast ocean of undrinkable salt water, while the water stock on board has run out.
Sometimes, it seems Rwanda finds itself in the same situation. Several months ago, in the midst of the rainy season, there was a serious problem with the water supply which the public utility EWSA explained was due to the fact that mud from floods was clogging up their filters.
That water has since long gone, yet today citizens in certain areas are crying foul again since not a drop of water has left their taps for several weeks, if not months. EWSA's explanation this time: it's the drought.
In sub-Saharan Africa, access to safe water has always been a big problem, which has been exacerbated over the past few decades by climate change which resulted in unusual long spells of drought and unpredictable heavy rain. While this is certainly not an easy problem to solve, the fact that clean water is essential for health and life makes that investment in water treatment and distribution is even more important than those in energy, and should be given top priority.
In Rwanda, Vision 2020 projects that the entire population should have easy access to clean water (i.e. having a tap at maximum 500 meters) eight years from now. While that is a laudable target, and it cannot be denied that significant progress has already been made (EWSA claims it reaches 70% today), it should also be considered that those taps are of little use when they are dry.
Therefore, the utility should step up its efforts to guarantee a regular supply of water - the fact that certain neighborhoods do not see a drop of water for weeks, and even months on end, is inacceptable. And the fact that in some cases EWSA only thinks of sending water tankers after there has been a huge public outcry, as we describe in our cover story, is all too cynical.
We understand that not all problems can be solved immediately, and that water supply requires major infrastructure works, but even in bad periods of drought or floods it should be possible to supply each neighborhood every few days - whether through the taps or with water tankers.
However, as citizens we too should take our responsibility. Placing a water tank in our compound to capture rainwater, for instance, is not a complicated matter. Not only can this serve as back-up in times of scarcity, but it will also reduce water consumption if people start using rainwater for non-essential purposes such as cleaning, flushing the toilet, etc. To motivate people to do so, and make the option accessible to everyone, the government might consider either subsidizing the tanks or organizing a system of interest-free loans.
We cannot achieve the other targets of Vision 2020 if we can't provide all the people with clean water.