It did happen in Bamenda but it could have happened anywhere in Cameroon. Saturday 17 july 2009. A gently brook in the dry season became a fierce-full river in the raining season. Taking by force back what mankind took. People witnessed the hidden power of water claiming it’s natural space. We treat our brooks and rivers as a drainage, sewer and something that is in the way. Instead of respecting it as the source of life. A strong and urgent warning, from above, to take better care of our water infrastructure. What brings life can easily take it away, let us be warned.
The trouble started up stream but did the most visual damage around the Vatican Express terminal at Sonac Street. At Savannah Street the water already had fierce strength, eating away big pieces of land. Near the bridge in the Old Town Road the water floated two garages. Taking a Toyota pick up into it’s stream, blocking the waterway under the bridge even more. At Sonac street the bridge itself was blocked by human waste by the start on. As a result of no maintenance or cleaning before the raining season started. A problem all waterways have in common as a small sight seeing tour of the Bamenda brooks proofed. Taking a look around it can be feared that it’s a nation wide problem.
Sonac Street, 3 p.m. the river started to overflow as the water mass built up and gained speed. A stone wall, made to canalize the water and to prevent water to enter the lower parts of the Colina All Life Bamenda Agency office building broke. Water rushed in. Destroying businesses. Taking away men’s income. Down stream, on the other side of the street, the river took the lion share of the stone wall, taking a big generator and floating the lot of the Vatican Express terminal.
The day after, the victims tried as good as possible to clean up and overcome the trashing of their livelihood. The Toyota pick up from the garage in Old Town was retrieved from the river bed. As it’s a Toyota, it will run again any time soon. The wall at Vatican Express Terminal will be rebuilt and the generator was pulled out the water. Not so lucky where other businesses. At Dinga Chambers, a law firm, the owners estimated the financial damage done to their business about CFA 2.000.000,-. They requested the court to postpone all their cases for at least two weeks as all dossiers and files where totally soaked, if not totally lost. “All our computers, printers and all our documents damaged.” Answering the question how they prepare for the future, they said to have decided to move their business to higher and thus safer grounds. In the front of the building a man was washing the soaked computers clean with water. As far as common knowledge goes, computers can’t stand water. Guess the manual was washed away too.
We hardly could save ourselves
Women of another business in the same compound told their account: “We were here when the water came in.” It came with an u-turn into the lower parts of the building through it’s entrance. The users of the building had to run into the water to get out of the compound, that rose to a level of chest level. “We hardly could save ourselves.” They answered when questioned if they could save anything at all. “The water came in with such a speed. No warning, no sound, crushing all the doors.” A dvd and cd vendor at Vatican Express told us: “It was the first time I saw something like this. I was frightened.” The water rose to the passenger floors, about one meter and thirty cm high, of the big Vatican Mercedes busses parked under the office building. A mechanic said he got scarred as hell: “It made such a noise!”
At the Furniture Wood Shop the water came to the roof of the business’ shelter. The owner saw it all happen. Showed the photo’s he made with his phone. “It came at once! Without a sound. Silence!” Taking almost all his craft tools. “Moving to higher grounds? No, there is no space. I will make the shelter higher”,to stand another float and as the owner explained, “Make a box to store my tools so the water can’t take them.” Explaining that he expects floats to happen again. For all the time he has his business on the Sonac Street and next to the blocked bridge: “I never saw any maintenance of the bridge. Or saw any clearing of the water drainage.” The victims would not dare it to say it out loud but most confirmed that the council should get the blame for not taking care of the water management in Bamenda. At the moment of pressing this edition of The Vanguard, we did not jet took the chance to ask the Bamenda Council or the Delegation of Town Planning for a reaction. Or being able to let us inform ourselves of it’s plans, ideas or programs considering the water management in the future. Hopefully we will get to it in later editions.
A source of life
Where there are rivers, there is life. Rivers bring water to drink, to grow crop, means of transport, to wash and as a line of defense against enemies. Cities grew where the rivers could be crossed by natural dams and where it was possible to make bridges. Rivers formed natural boundaries for powerful empires. Settlements can be found down the river where the water could be of any use in daily life. But humans have the bad habit to treat what is good for them badly. Rivers can bring life, but surly also takes.
A walk through any town in Cameroon shows that there is a serious mismanagement of the water infrastructure. A clear showcase of lack of understanding of the power and the nature of water. In small amounts it’s harmless. Once it’s grown to full proportion it’s a deadly force to be taken seriously. Canalizing the streams, taking the space and filling it up with waste is not a wise thing to do. As proven through history. Just ask the Dutch. Canalizing makes the water gain power as it is forced through a straight smaller space. If water becomes higher it increases in speed. With more speed it rapidly eats away land or anything human made. A strong solid stone wall can crack as easy as matches. Illustrated by the broken walls at Sonac Street in Bamenda.
The Holiday Inn Resort, in Limbe, built its extension over a canalized creek. Is the structure of the canal strong enough when it’s tested to it’s maximal capabilities? What happens if the water mass starts to overflow? If the owners already have problems to keep the hot showers up and running, we noticed when we were there, how can they guaranty the safety of the building on top of the riverbed? One pothole in the structure and the water eats it’s way trough the fundament. With water, everything is as strong as the weakest link. And it’s not the question if but when a disaster will strike at the resort.
Everywhere in Cameroon people built in the waterbeds. Using the space the river needs as a reserve when the water mass becomes to much. Taking away the ability to spread out the water: if the water mass can spread out, it will slow down. By having no room to spread out, it will grow higher gaining, again, more speed forcing itself through a too small space. Accelerating the increase of the power and the danger: it gains momentum rapidly. On top of this the creeks and rivers are used as an easy way to flush trash. The bottlenecks in the streams will get blocked. The streams gets gridlocked, more water coming in, less getting out. More mass will built up. Till it finally will force it’s way, over it, next to or simply crushing through it. And if you’re in it’s way, it can be fatal.
Bond to happen again
The witnesses that we spoke, did this with a lot more respect for the force of the water. As they stated it was a power never seen before by them. For them, the experience was an eye opener, a serious warning that it could have easily been a fatal rampage of the gentle water stream. Some believe it was an act of God. Others blame the council of not taking care, for is could have been prevented with some basic water management. What is even more scary is the lack of understanding of the problem and it’s threat by those who didn’t see it. As it’s bond to happen again. With the climate change the world is in for some ruff weather, more rainy days to come. The small creek in Bamenda showed it’s deadly teeth once it becomes as fast streaming water mass. Let us be warned: do not use the creeks as sewer or trash bin and do not occupy the natural waterbed. Mother nature will take back by force what is naturally hers.
What can be done? Three options: do nothing, do something or take it as an opportunity to be drastic. First option: keep on living daily life as nothing did happen. Blame it on the council or saying that’s it’s Gods will. Ignoring the phrase ‘God helps those who helps them selves’. Second option: Do not live or built your livelihood on dangers grounds. Take the counsel orders seriously, like the smashed sign board at Sonac Street illustrates: ‘Warning: no throwing of refuse around here by order of council’. Do your part of keeping the waterways clear of waste. And if those responsible lack action, take action and hold them responsible. The third option: take the opportunity to be drastic: clear the whole original waterbed of the river of buildings. Relocate business and houses to saver grounds. Repair and improve the bridges. Make a park out of the waterbed where all of Bamenda can go for a walk, relax or entertain. Great for business opportunities on the side of the park: restaurants, cabarets and hotels with a great view. Create in he heart of the city a green paradise, as a green avenue through Bamenda. Take Central Park in New York as example. The stream will refresh the air, a major and welcome health improvement of the city. And in case if the river overflow, it can do so safely without any serious damage. While all are watching from the pleasant and safe cafe’s, restaurant and off license. Let the rivers bring life to Bamenda.
The Vanguard, national newspaper Cameroon
Special Report: George Kweilla Fombutu and Auke VanderHoek