Water Crisis in Burkina Faso

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RAYMOND, Maine — Burkina Faso, an African nation bordering Cote d’Ivoire, faces an ongoing water crisis, an issue arising before the turn of the 21st century. The nation made improvements by implementing the Water Act in 2001, but progress has stagnated since then. According to WaterAid, close to 50% of the population struggles without access to clean water. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and unrest within the country, the water crisis in Burkina Faso has worsened. The Mouhoun Water Agency (MWA) is taking matters into its own hands, accepting proposals for projects “to improve water and sanitation services for the population.”

Water’s Importance to Economic and Health Development

Clean water, aside from being a fundamental necessity, is also a revenue provider. Easy access to clean water has the potential to save $18.5 billion annually by avoiding preventable water-related deaths. Clean water and sanitation access reduces household health care costs and also increases productivity on an individual level. World Bank data on Burkina Faso indicates that, in 2016, for every 100,000 people, “unsafe water, unsafe sanitation and lack of hygiene” led to an average of almost 50 deaths.

A Closer Look at the Water Crisis in Burkina Faso

Several factors contribute to Burkina Faso’s water crisis. Firstly, Burkina Faso is a landlocked country with few water sources around it. Additionally, Burkina Faso’s dry season lasts from at least October to May, and some years, it lasts even longer. Local handpumps go unfixed, meaning people must walk further to obtain water from unsafe and unclean sources.

To make matters worse, in 2018, armed forces in Burkina Faso caused widespread violence, forcing many citizens to relocate in hope of avoiding the violence. Displacement has led to already struggling communities hosting displaced families, creating a greater demand for water within countless homes. The displacement has also led to job losses, impacting income in a still-developing nation. The crisis continues to evolve as the violence persists and the droughts and dry seasons are nearing again.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Burkina Faso during its dry season in 2020. Burkina Faso’s government rations water in the dry season, however, the government also instructed its citizens to wash their hands and clothing frequently to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But, lacking water resources presents struggles in this regard. The government also initiated a curfew to avoid socialization, creating another barrier to water access as “the public water company would only bring water to the pumps at night.”

Limited Resources, Limited Solutions

Burkina Faso has neither the funds nor resources to address the water crisis. About 41% of the nation lives in conditions of poverty. Furthermore, the economy is largely agriculture-based, a sector highly dependant on water. In fact, the agriculture sector employs about 80% of Burkina Faso’s workforce.

The World Bank projects that it costs $150 billion per year to implement and maintain long-lasting, proper water and sanitation infrastructure. Unfortunately, Burkina Faso’s gross domestic product only reached $17.3 billion in 2020, making this an unlikely reality. The country does not have the financial resources or expertise to build the appropriate infrastructure for sanitized water.

The Mouhoun Water Agency

The Agence de l’Eau du Mouhoun, also known as the Mouhoun Water Agency (MWA), plays an integral role in transforming the water crisis in Burkina Faso. MWA’s primary purpose is to develop long-term water and sanitation solutions for Burkina Faso communities. It aims to accomplish this through several goals, such as “[promoting]in the basin, rational use of water resources, the fight against pollution and protection of aquatic environments.” The MWA’s primary partner is the International Office for Water (OIEau), a French organization aiding Burkina Faso in its endeavor to end the country’s water crisis.

How Is MWA Working to Find Solutions?

In mid-October 2021, MWA called for project proposals to help address Burkina Faso’s water crisis. These projects will focus on “the development of watersheds, the recovery of degraded lands, the development of river banks and water reservoirs, the protection, rehabilitation and realization of hydraulic works for the mobilization of water resources,” among other goals. Importantly, “the management of conflicts related to water” will also stand as a focal area.

MWA requests that submissions come from “public or private project owners” as well as civil society organizations. MWA set the final proposal date for November 5, 2021. The approved projects will be implemented between March and December 2022. MWA will coordinate efforts to execute the projects and designate the financial backing to the final project overseers.

If the chosen projects succeed, the 2022-2023 dry season will be easier for the citizens of Burkina Faso and the nation will be one step closer to ending Burkina Faso’s water crisis.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

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