Terrorism and its impacts on water access in Africa’s Sahel region
Burkina Faso’s interim President Captain Ibrahim Traoré spoke late last year of the conflicts that are now blighting his country and much of his region. He described the situation in Burkina Faso as predictable given the endemic weaknesses in governance that he believes have led to the economic abandonment of many young people, particularly outside of urban areas.
He delivered these remarks on November 13th to political parties, civil society organizations, and traditional and customary leaders in Ouagadougou to raise awareness of Burkina Faso’s rapidly degrading security situation. Of particular note was his focus on water, as he described seeing people throughout the Southwest, Northwest and Sahel regions including Gorom-Gorom, Tinasane and Markoye carrying jerry cans to fetch water. This led him to question why there were no development projects in these impoverished regions. The people walk, he lamented, for miles to get water for the cattle that die on the way. There are no roads for trucks to even transport livestock feed to sustain livestock, he reflected, before referring to the Kongoussi-Djibo road bridge built in the 1950s that has fallen into such dilapidation that it can no longer support the trucks that would otherwise take the now rotting local produce to market. All he says, because of a lack of investment in the construction and the maintenance of essential infrastructure.
His speech depicts a reality across the Sahel region where terrorist attacks have been rampant since 2012, following Mouammar Kadhafi’s assassination and the subsequent looting of Libya’s weapons deposits. Many villages have since been abandoned in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, with thousands of people having been displaced with no proper government intervention to curb the violence.
As clean drinking water is a basic need, lack of access to it triggers many problems at every level of society. Traditionally, villages are located close to waterways to allow for the smooth provisioning of water, as well as the practice of gardening to produce basic ingredients for food which can be consumed and sold for cash for the community.
With the rise of terrorist attacks mostly in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso but reaching coastal countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Benin, many villages have been abandoned or are under the control of armed terrorist groups who impose their own rules and dictates on the local people. Displaced populations are deprived of their traditional water sources, be they natural water courses, standpipes or boreholes, cutting off their water supply and therefore the access to their means of physical and economic sustenance.
“They lay down the law for the management and use of water and other natural resources by delimiting areas to be exploited,” said a local elected authority to me in a terrorist dominated zone in the Central-Southern part of Mali, adding that, “the cultivable areas are reduced and they [terrorist groups] occupy the wooded areas suitable for agriculture and which contain the local water reserves.”
The chiefs of villages occupied under duress are obliged to cooperate with these groups. They are therefore the preferred interlocutors of all those who “seek permission to operate” in these controlled areas. The opinion of the village chief is conditional to the prior agreement of the group to which the village belongs. There are real negotiations with these terrorist groups before any projects or partners are allowed to enter the territory.
The reality in Sahelian countries in general is that successive governments since independence have concentrated their “administration” on urban areas. But once you leave the urban areas the populations are left to their own devices with an administration that is more oppressive and not in the least concerned with providing sustainable responses to the development needs of these localities.
The agents of the land registry (customs), law enforcement (police, gendarmes), and nature protection (water and forests) are quicker to find ways to engage in racketeering than to offer the poor the services they require.
“We have lost a lot of funding which has been transferred to other localities deemed more accessible,” explained a local government official to me recently in one of the areas under control. “Given the fact that the groups themselves need to have privileged access to drinking water, they facilitate the arrival of certain partners to install water supply systems,” he added.
GWP West Africa is implementing the European Union funded project “water for growth and poverty reduction in the Mekrou sub catchment in Niger” but it was not been able to launch the project as planned in August 2020 due to a terrorist attack that tragically killed eight people. Water management and development is but one of many sectors affected by terrorist activities in the region, but water, unlike some other sectors, is a matter of survival.
There is therefore a critical need to enhance and improve the governance of water resources and land while ensuring that required investments are put in place to sustainably respond to the water related development needs of people living in urban and rural areas at all levels in Sahelian countries.
Biography- Armand Houanye
Armand Houanye has been the Regional Executive Secretary of the Global Water Partnership in West Africa (GWP-WA) since October 2017. He is in charge of the development, planning and coordination of GWP-WA operations across 15 West African countries with a focus on integrated drought management, water climate and development, gender, and water for growth and poverty reduction
Armand Houanye has over 20 years’ experience in agricultural water management, integrated water resources management (IWRM), climate resilience, water governance. He holds a master’s degree in Climate Risks Management with a Diploma of Agricultural Engineering.