Water for Everyone, Cisterns for the Elite

The MPLA’s program for government for the 5-year period of 2012-2017 outlines extraordinary progress in the provision of socio-economic infrastructure throughout the country. Statistics presented in the election manifesto are on a scale comparable only to industrialized nations with high levels of human development.

After the World War II, the European countries and Japan benefitted from the Marshall Plan. They relied on the synergy of their people and of the international community for the process of reconstruction and the launch of their development programs. In Angola, the MPLA’s program unveils only the endeavor of one party and one leader.

However, this totalitarian endeavor by the MPLA, in power for the past 37 years, cannot prevent citizens from undertaking a critical analysis of the government and its success stories. After all, the MPLA proclaims that it has done everything to improve the quality of life of the people. This article analyzes, in an initial review of the electoral program, the policy for water supply, both in the urban areas and rural communities, defined as one of the MPLA’s principal priorities for government.

Water for Everyone

According to the MPLA, “the ‘Water for Everyone’ program, which began in 2007, has been successfully implemented, supplying over 1.2 million people with drinking water thus far. By the end of 2012, this program will ensure that at least 60% of the rural population will have drinking water”.

The MPLA states that the said program doubled the supply of drinking water to rural areas, from 22 to 44 per cent, in the two-year period from 2009 to 2011. During the same period, in urban areas, the MPLA’s success appears unquestionable, having increased the supply of drinking water from 33 to 56 percent.

However, the MPLA’s program does not account for the entire population of Angola, neither its distribution by urban and rural areas. Statistical data regarding the beneficiaries of the ‘Water for Everyone’ project have also been omitted. This data is essential to establishing a comparative analysis. Therefore, looking at the program alone, it is difficult to interpret the MPLA’s success story concerning the supply of drinking water.

Drinking Water by Numbers

In June of last year, in Uíge, the then minister for Energy and Water, Emanuela Vieira Lopes, announced the same number of beneficiaries of the ‘Water for Everyone’ project. According to her, during the period in question, the ministry for Energy and Water recorded more than seven million inhabitants in rural areas, 38 percent of whom had access to drinking water, and expected to increase that number to 49 percent by 2012. On the same segment of the population, the MPLA’s program highlights 22 percent coverage at the beginning of the project and an increase in coverage to 44 percent in 2011. In turn, sponsored by the Ministry for Planning, the Integrated Inquiry on the Well-being of the Population (IBEP) reveals that there was no improvement to the supply of drinking water to rural communities. “Access to water supply improved in urban areas, but not in rural areas,” the study found. There is therefore a glaring discrepancy in numbers between MPLA data and government data.

Over the entire population of 19 million people, the IBEP indicates that “less than half the population (42%), has an adequate supply of drinking water”.

The study notes that, both the eastern region of the country (an area rich in diamonds and hydrographical resources), as well as the province of Bengo, “have the lowest proportions of access to drinking water from adequate supplies”. In the province of Lunda-Sul, which has an average annual diamond production of approximately US$ 700 million, only seven percent of the local population has access to clean drinking water, a rate six times lower than the national average, according to IBEP.

In 2010, at the Forum on Private Investment Opportunities in Lunda-Sul, the local government highlighted that none of the water supply systems built under the ‘Water for Everyone’ program included water treatment plants, with the exception of the city of Saurimo, the provincial capital. The local government also stressed that the water supply usually comes from river sources, through a system of hydraulic pumping stations, and without any physical, chemical or bacterial analyzis whatsoever. According to the official document, the ‘Water for Everyone’ program has an execution rate lower than 10 percent of what has been planned for Lunda-Sul. Seven large rivers cross this province alone, namely the Cassai, Chicapa, Chiumbe, Cuilo, Luachimo, Luele and Mombo. Lunda-Sul also has a network of 40 tributaries, not to mention the innumerable streams and other water sources.

Cisterns for the Elite

The situation on the ground in large parts of the provinces, concerning the supply of drinking water, remains abysmal. In the capital Luanda, with more than five million inhabitants, the IBEP estimates that “just half of the population has access to an adequate supply of water.” One of the most lucrative informal businesses in Luanda is the sale of water, delivered by tanker trucks, supplied directly from rivers and water treatment plants, sold daily in neighborhoods without piped water or whose supply has been turned off. In the resale process, the price of 20 liters of water varies from 50 to 100 kwanzas (1USD), depending on supply and demand at the time.

An extraordinary example of the advertised success of the government’s water policy is the situation in Sonangol’s luxury Cajú condominium. Some members of the presidential family, including José Eduardo dos Santos himself, and the cream of the MPLA elite, own tens of residences at this exclusive address. Though it cost US$ 334.6 million to build, the condominium, which has been occupied for four years, has serious problems with its water supply. For almost a month now, there has been no water in the system, and all of the residents have to buy their own cisterns to fill their private tanks and receptacles. Among the MPLA’s elite, the most powerful are supplied with water from the cisterns of the provincial government of Luanda. In spite of this exceptional treatment, the quality of this water is not tested either.

In spite of this and other serious inconveniences, which affect the quality of life of the Angolan elite, where access to “adequate supplies of water” is concerned, the MPLA is upbeat. It states in its program that it has created a model of government that guarantees the following: “generalized access for families to suitable housing, drinking water, electricity, education, health services and other public services that contribute towards their social well-being”.

There is one worrying question in the MPLA’s water policy. If the leaders are not even concerned about the quality of water being supplied to the private tanks in their own luxury residences, how can they possibly be interested in ensuring that water collected from rivers, wells and waterworks, as part of the ‘Water for Everyone’ program, is fit for human consumption?

In any case, it is appropriate to say that, during the electoral campaign, water is for everyone and cisterns are for the elite.