FREETOWN: Sierra Leone’s capital is in the grip of a fortnight-long drought that has forced residents to spend hours searching for water, often risking their lives by drinking contaminated supplies. Activists have warned that schoolchildren have to spend entire nights looking for water, with no end in sight for the crisis. “The water crisis is worsening by the hour,” Sao Lamin, chairman of Consortium of Civil Societies for Safe and Available Drinking Water said on Friday. “We have put out monitoring teams throughout the city on a nightly basis to assess the extent of the crisis and have found out that many people, including schoolgirls, are not sleeping in their houses as they go in search of water from midnight to daybreak,” he said. One water company that typically provides 20,000 liters (4,400 gallons) of water to the capital every day blamed environmental problems and years of bills left unpaid by customers. A spokesman for the Guma Valley Water Company, Joseph Musa said “We can link the current scarcity to delayed rainfall as well as massive deforestation and people constructing houses adjacent to the water catchment sites. Millions of dollars covering over a decade or more are owed to the company”. The government has called for calm and promised to do more to help, saying that it was “disturbed” by reports of girls forced to roam the streets at night in search for water. “The government is trying all possible means to alleviate the situation and has located 10,000-litre water tanks in strategic parts of the city to supply water to consumers,” Minister for Information and Communications Mohamed Bangura said this week. He also said that the emergency distribution programme would continue for the next month. “We are not making excuses but take full responsibility for what is happening,” he said. The effects of the shortage may be severe in a country where deaths from waterborne diseases are common. Local media have reported that dozens of water wells have already dried up in the western and eastern parts of the city, and young women have had to fill giant containers with water from a stagnant stream. Bottled water manufacturers have cashed in on the crisis, reportedly doubling their prices to the equivalent of $1 (89 euro cents) per bottle in a country where the majority lives on less than a dollar a day. “It has never been like this,” said Pastor of the Life Brethren Church Sammy Williams. He also said that he was praying for divine intervention as he gazed at the city’s hilltop houses with dusty roofs scattered amongst parched brown trees.