Persistent blackout, water scarcity: 30 MPs pepper Water and Energy Minister for six hours

By Giyo Ndzi

Yesterday’s plenary sitting at the National Assembly which had in attendance, the Minister of Water and Energy Resources, MINEE Gaston Eloundou Essomb, was not an easy ride for the official like others have been for his counterparts of other ministries since the start of the June session of parliament.

Grilled by a record 30 different lawmakers for six straight hours, they sought to know why there are persistent, prolonged and often unexplained power outages and water shortages across the national territory, despite the country’s bountiful natural resources. During his excruciating six hours at the Yaounde Conference centre hosting the National Assembly, Minister Gaston Eloundou revealed thousands of Cameroonian communities will continue to go without regular power supply for a long time to come, owing to both natural and man-made causes.

In his opening address at the plenary session, National Assembly Vice President, Hon Baoro Theophile cited the importance of electricity and water to Cameroon at this point of its evolution, given the fact that it is a growing economy. President Paul Biya, he went on, has over the years, gone a long way to make available adequate supply of the basic commodities. The current situation, the MP stated, is a sharp contrast of the hopes of the Head of State and the Cameroonian people in general, necessitating answers to citizens’ plight.

After the Minister’s 36-page presentation of the country’s resource and utility sector, the challenges faced and the ongoing measures to ameliorate the situation, the MPs took turns at the rostrum of the National Assembly one after the other. They quizzed him on particular as well as general instances of failure on the part of institutions in place, to provide water and electricity to citizens as well as the often nonchalant attitude put up in the face of these poorly rendered services.

Responding to some of the MPs’ worries, Minister Gaston painted a grim image of the country’s electricity situation in the near future, agreeing immediate action remains of utmost importance to prevent the current situation from getting worse. He told the peoples’ representatives close to 10,000 different communities nationwide are yet to be connected to the national electricity grid. Failing to bring them up to par in the near future, Cameroon, would remain a long way from achieving accessible and affordable energy for millions of its citizens.

Minister Gaston addresses parliament at yesterday’s stormy plenary sitting

The Minister of Water and Energy told lawmakers “to succeed in electrifying all of the 9,000 localities in Cameroon which are still without power supply, it would be necessary for studies to be carried out by MINEE teams, for the State to be able to mobilise an amount of approximately 874 billion CFA francs”.

The money, Minister Gaston Eloundou explained, would be used at different stages in different regions with 267 billion FCFA in the North, 104 billion FCFA in the Centre, 101 billion FCFA in the Adamawa, 95 billion FCFA in the South, 90 billion FCFA in the Far North, 66 billion FCFA in the North West 66 billion FCFA in the East, 50 billion used in the Littoral, 45 billion in the West, and 28 billion FCFA in the South West region.

Natural causes, uncivil behavior … to blame

Regarding electrified areas that are yet to have regular power supply, the minister blamed natural causes, overused equipment as well as locals for the blackouts.

“In the Littoral Region,” he told parliament, “out of a total of 1103 localities, 704 are electrified against 399 not electrified. The public electricity service also experiences recurring disturbances, due to the fall of electricity poles, bush fires and the uncivil attitude of the populations, as well as the obsolescence and overload of equipment.”

“Bush fires and floods in Mayo Rey, North region have also greatly contributed to the fall of electricity poles causing poor transportation of power to some areas… 95% of transformers in the South West region are overworked causing either low voltage or frequent power cuts… inadequate and insufficient light supply in the North West region is due to a total of 55 broken transformers in the region… [and] one of the main causes of the lack of electric power in the Northern regions is due to natural causes, the drop of the Lagdo Dam from 4.000 billion cubic meters of water in 2019 to 2000 in 2020” the Water and Energy Minister added.

Sustainable solutions to epileptic power, water supply
The MINEE boss told MPs several measures were already being put in place to remedy the dire power supply situation across the national territory. In addition to the need of billions as part of efforts to resolve the constant power failures across the country, Minister Gaston Eloundou said stakeholder enterprises in the power supply sector would also find a better substitute for wooden poles used in transmission lines.

“Henceforth,” he declared, “all electricity transportation poles will be produced of concrete for better durability”. He further explained that 55,000 of such concrete poles had already been constructed and more would follow in the days ahead, as part of a broad initiative to replace wooden poles nationwide.

Government, he also explained, is at the moment undertaking a series of measures including the purchase of new transformers, renewing/ constructing new transmission lines for energy supply across the country.

Regarding water supply challenges, the Minister also admitted there had been many shortcomings, but are being contained at different levels. One of such, he stated, was the ongoing construction of 3,000 boreholes in the country’s Northern regions to boost potable water supply and ease the lives of residents.

“I instructed CAMWATER to take effective measures to fight against fraud and a pilot programme of smart meters is currently being tested…” he said in his speech, adding the smart meters are expected to eradicate water theft as well as the doctoring of meters by clients, an act that has cost CAMWATER billions.

Minister Gaston also made mention of the establishment of an optimal program of urbanization of water supply networks in rural areas. Sponsored by the African Development Bank, the initiative, he explained aims to provide results of detailed studies of 300 mini-systems of drinking water supply in rural areas across the national territory.

MPs at the end of the session, also proposed measures to ameliorate the situation, including the increase in the use of renewable energy.

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