BAMAKO, Mali — Mali’s climate, particularly the northernmost territory, has always been prone to droughts that cause shortages of food and water. The nomadic Tuareg people in Mali’s corner of the Sahara have learned to survive the harsh climate. They migrate from place to place during droughts in search of water and grass for their herds to graze on. However, as the effects of climate change set in and drought becomes more frequent, this difficult lifestyle has only gotten harder.
According to a 2011 study, the Sahara is expanding south at a rate of 48 kilometers per year. Traditional Tuareg migration areas become desertified and forced to find territory elsewhere. This territory is usually further south or north into Libya. This leads to further political instability in an already ethnically unstable Mali, especially since many Tuareg people feel that the southern government has abandoned them.
This sentiment is reflected in the disparity between rural and urban water access. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) stated that at least “80 percent of Mali’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water, this number drops significantly in rural areas.” Additionally, those who have nowhere to go are more susceptible to join separatist or extremist groups at the promise of food for themselves and their families.
Sanitation in Mali
As a result of climate change and the subsequent political instability, only 39 percent of Malians have access to basic service sanitation. Around 10 percent (or more than 1.5 million people) of Malians still practice open defecation since they do not have access to proper toilet facilities. The feces leak into the water supply and directly infect it while flies carry disease to food. This leads to a larger prevalence of intestinal worm diseases and further contaminates the already scarce water supply in rural communities.
Only half of all schools in Mali have a water supply that filters out disease and fewer than 20 percent have “separate, functional toilets for boys and girls.” In a setting where children are in close confines without proper sanitation means or education, diseases spread easily and contribute to Mali’s high child mortality rate of 106 children per 1,000 live births. For perspective, the U.S. child mortality rate is 3.1 children per 10,000 live births.
Since the issue of sanitation in Mali is so deeply rooted in systemic and social issues, many international organizations have focused on the physical implementation of clean water facilities. However, there is also a focus on community-led programs intent on educating rural Malians. These programs look to provide those in need with the means to keep themselves healthy in the short-term. In addition, they provide Malians with the knowledge to keep themselves healthy in the long-term as well.
The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Plus (WASH-Plus) program is dedicated to providing water in areas like Mali. Through its initiative, almost 200 villages have built nearly 9,000 updated latrines. Now, nearly five years after the program’s conclusion in 2015, positive results have become apparent. The 146 of the villages that received assistance are now open-defecation free. They are washing their hands and have reduced the prevalence of diarrhea and worms.
The program mainly focused on education to bring about behavioral change creating clean, affordable water pumps and facilities. The clean water and behavioral changes have also brought about improvements in maternal health, education, nutrition and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. WASH-Plus also trained 400 volunteers in proper sanitation and nutrition in the homes of villagers.
Water and Development Alliance (WADA)
Another U.S.-led program is the Water and Development Alliance (WADA). The program is a partnership between USAID and Coca-Cola that aims to improve the health of communities in need through similar methods to the WASH-Plus program. Together, they have improved sanitation access to 284,000 people around the world.
Additionally, they emphasize economic empowerment and sustainable business practices that would allow continued clean-water access. These efforts help bring poor communities out of poverty and promote watershed and biodiversity protection. WADA strives to hire locals and engage them in the development and building process of clean water facilities. In doing so, Malians are able to gain education and experience in project management. Through the engagement of the community, WADA creates sustainable jobs. WADA also provides the impoverished with the means to keep themselves and their economies clean and healthy.
UNICEF and WHO
UNICEF has also conducted improvement initiatives for sanitation in Mali. Through research, the organization has been able to determine who is affected the most by poor access to clean water. This way, UNICEF can determine how to implement a community-specific solution. On a broad scale, UNICEF works with the World Health Organization (WHO). They collaborate with Mali’s Ministry of Energy and Water and the Ministry of Environment, Sanitation and Sustainable Development. Their efforts consist of constructing, repairing and rehabilitating water access points and latrines in schools.
All programs are conducted with an emphasis on the empowerment of young girls, the children most vulnerable to poverty and the social harms that come with it. UNICEF also conducts the initiatives through community-driven measures that engage the people on the ground in a similar fashion to WADA. This is more focused on involving local governments and including the people in the decision-making process.
The humanitarian aid that focuses on community engagement is bringing about positive change for rural Malians. However, the physical construction of water sources is also key. Poor communities that have never had a stable source of water before are experiencing vast improvements to their health. This will help to stabilize northern Mali. Access to sanitation is also likely to improve the economy in rural Mali and facilitate lasting change for healthier children and adults. Mali’s sanitation is on the path to stability and modernization.
– Graham Gordon
Photo: Wikimedia Commons