Author : Wendgouda Priva Kabré
Organisation : International Committee of the Red Cross
Type of publication : Article
Date of publication : June 2021
Burkina Faso has been experiencing a humanitarian crisis since armed conflict broke out in 2016. As in the rest of the Sahel region, a prolonged drought has only made things worse.
How has climate change impacted the people there ?
The challenges faced by these communities may not be directly due to climate change per se, but people do talk about how much the environment has changed. Temperatures have risen over the past 20 years, and drought has become a major problem. There is less and less water to be found in wells and natural reservoirs.
Farmland that used to stay moist for six months now dries up after three. The rains have become unpredictable: they come too early or too late, which creates a lot of uncertainty for farmers.
The farther north you go in the country, the harder it is to find water. Unfortunately, the areas with the worst drought are also dealing with armed violence.
How has the ongoing conflict contributed to water scarcity ?
Conflict in rural areas has caused a massive wave of displacement in the northern, eastern and central parts of the country. New neighbourhoods have sprung up, which has put additional pressure on basic infrastructure. Underground reservoirs are drying up fast. Meanwhile, government services have stopped doing maintenance work in many places because of the security situation.
Farmland that used to stay moist for six months now dries up after three. The rains have become unpredictable: they come too early or too late, which creates a lot of uncertainty for farmers
The atmosphere at water collection points can be tense. Some people pay bribes to avoid standing in the queue. The whole situation is bad for social cohesion. New arrivals – the people who have fled their homes – are served last, which only adds to their troubles.
Is water scarcity hampering the response to COVID-19 ?
Because water is so scarce, people have had to drastically reduce how much they use. What little water they do have, they ration carefully. Hygiene and sanitation are secondary concerns. Handwashing is a luxury.
Their priorities are a matter of survival: water is for drinking, cooking and watering their animals.
What is the healthcare situation in rural areas ?
Diarrhoeal diseases are the main reason people come in to consult and the leading cause of death.
In the last six years, the conflict has intensified and led to an increased demand for medical services. But many health facilities have been damaged or destroyed, and a large portion of the health workforce have fled rural areas, where violence is rampant.
Today, OCHA estimates that the violence is preventing 800,000 people from accessing health care.
Our teams are standing ready to renovate health centres. But 80 per cent of the time, we have to address water supply issues before we can begin. Take for example the commune of Barsalogho, in central Burkina Faso, which has taken in nearly 100,000 displaced people fleeing the violence. The population doubled in just one year. The centre is currently sharing its water supply with the displaced people living nearby. Health and sanitation remain a serious challenge.
How has water scarcity affected traditional ways of life?
Water scarcity has implications not only for health care but also for farming. Roughly 80 percent of Burkina Faso’s population depends on agriculture. But even before the conflict broke out, young people were already abandoning rural areas and moving to cities.
No one believes it’s possible to earn a decent living from traditional agriculture anymore. The younger generation sees no future in scraping what little they can from the ground.
In the last six years, the conflict has intensified and led to an increased demand for medical services. But many health facilities have been damaged or destroyed, and a large portion of the health workforce have fled rural areas, where violence is rampant
With farming no longer an option, women have turned to collecting gravel or breaking up granite slabs in quarries for construction companies. It’s back-breaking work that takes a serious toll on their health. Young people prefer to find odd jobs in cities, where they live in cramped, overpopulated slums with no basic infrastructure.
The excessive use of pesticides is another environmental concern.
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