Far From Existing in Isolation: Water Quality in Burundi


BURUNDI — Water is a resource that the world’s population struggles to appropriately allocate. In Burundi, a tiny African country nestled between Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, residents face great difficulties accessing clean water.

Ironically, Burundi possesses abundant water resources. Access to clean water and other water-related sanitation problems was reduced by four civil wars that Burundi experienced since 1962. In 1965, the Hutu-Tutsi ethnic struggle began when a Hutu insurgent group attempted to seize political power.

In 1972, thousands of Tutsis died and educated Hutus fled Burundi. The result impacted the regulatory system and finances of Burundi with regards to the water quality. Furthermore, the thousands of displaced people became infected with water-related diseases.

The water connections in Burundi were ravaged during the wars and neglected due to a lack of financial capital. Many kilometers of water pipes, as well as 80 percent of installed water meters, were destroyed after each war. Residents are now forced to collect untreated water from sources like rivers, lakes, shallow wells, water haulers and standpipes.

Waterborne diseases are significant issues, with 68 percent to 76 percent of illnesses traced to limited safe drinking water. Contracting waterborne diseases also increased the mortality rate in Burundi.

The government is attempting to improve the water quality in Burundi. For example, in 2000, the government adopted laws breaking up the monopoly over sanitation services. The government also introduced a new regulatory framework to aid the improvement of water quality in Burundi.

The Water and Electric Authority (REGIDESCO) is another arm of the government attempting to improve the water quality in Burundi. REGISDESCO made 29,700 water connections and 49 standpipe connections in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. Additionally, REGISDESCO made 1,500 new water connections in the capital before 2010, and suggested further new water connections for this decade.

Unfortunately, the overall performance of REGIDESCO is not satisfactory. REGIDESCO is not doing well financially. Nonpayment of water bills, especially by public sector users, inhibits REGIDESCO from improving the water quality in Burundi.

Still, there is hope. One of the government’s goals is the rehabilitation of the drinking water supply. Another important priority is to improve the hygiene and sanitation in both urban and rural areas. In fact, since 1990, 1.2 million people gained access to improved sanitation. The government also hopes to provide one covered indoor latrine and one public latrine in each public establishment in rural areas, where residents struggle even more to obtain clean water.

There are also donors helping to improve the water quality in Burundi ever since the democratic elections of 2005. For example, the African Development Bank (AfDB) launched an $18 million project to assess water and sanitation resources throughout Burundi.

The enthusiasm to improve water quality in Burundi may encourage a global effort to further address the issue.

Smriti Krishnan

Photo: Flickr


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