After gas and fish, sugar seems to have disappeared from Cameroonian shelves. The depletion of stocks and as well as the absence of essential capital needed to revitalise the market have been singled out. However, after hitting a new low, the precarious water situation in the central African country’s capitals is yet to be addressed.
Housewives are on the brink of a nervous breakdown as they hover the length and breadth of cities and towns in search of basic household necessities without success. At service stations or areas reserved for the distribution of gas, one systematically reads: “No domestic gas”. Prices have skyrocketed. A gas cylinder which is usually sold for 6000 CFA francs, has reached 7,000 CFA francs or more. As at now, only one alternative remains; a return to the traditional firewood. This alternative, however, is not feasible in cases involving those who live in flats or apartment buildings.
But Cameroonians are not only faced with the headache of gas shortages. Mackerel fish is also in short supply in the two capitals of Yaounde and Douala. After nearly three weeks of complete dearth, the essential fish has timidly resurfaced at exorbitant prices, especially for the average Cameroonian household. At 600 CFA per kilo, the price has doubled as it now sells at 1000 or 1200 francs per kilo.
David Tsegu, regional delegate for commerce on the Coast, argues that “this shortage is due to the lack of safety stocks to prevent a mackerel crisis.” Indeed, Cameroon neither has adequate cold-storage for fish nor the capital to purchase large quantities of fish to compensate for the period of rest, stipulated under international law, for fishermen.
Sugar and water
Whilst steps are being taken to address the issue of mackerel stocks, a crippling and irregular sugar supply is being addressed at a painfully slow rate. Although serious fluctuations have been observed by all and sundry in shops and supermarkets, officials of the Ministry of Commerce claim that there is no sugar shortage despite the shortage not only being widespread but also coupled with massive price hikes. From 600 CFA francs a kilo, sugar has hit 1000 francs CFA per kilo in a short period of time.
And while towns are expected to be equally served in terms of sugar supplies, sugar is becoming increasingly rare in Yaounde, following the announced arrival of some 8 000 tonnes of sugar from Brazil in Douala. But this import is not expected to solve the basic problem as those with the means, more often than not, keep huge stocks in anticipation of eventual shortages despite store managers having been warned by the authorities not to sell more than 2 kilos of sugar per customer.
As measures to stabilise the dismal gas and sugar shortages continue, the country’s already precarious water supply has dropped to a new low. Water is a rare commodity in the Cameroonian capitals. Some neighborhoods have long abandoned the use of their home taps after months without running water.
For most people wells, rain water, and rivers have become the only means of survival. Those in areas without wells, rivers or enough rainfall relentlessly search for the precious liquid day in day out. But those lucky enough to get water have to keep vigil until the wee hours of the morning in order to fill their dry containers.