Author : Pip Cook
Site of publication : genevasolutions.news
Type of publication : Conference recap
Date of publication : 21 September 2021
What’s happening in the Sahel
The Sahel has been gripped by a security crisis for over a decade which continues to spread across West Africa, threatening the lives and livelihoods of some 80 million people who currently reside in the region. Water has been one of the most catastrophic victims of the crisis, where the combination of escalating violence, dwindling resources due to climate change and mismanagement of water sources has left many communities cut off from water access entirely.
A record 29 million people across six countries are now in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
“Because of the lack of mediation, social justice and community justice [in these settings], the fair distribution of water resources is unfortunately totally absent. And when we know that governments are unfortunately taken by military solutions like the ones we see in the Sahel, or in the Central African Republic, access to basic services becomes obsolete”, said Patrick Youssef, the regional director for Africa of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
We need to improve and transmit knowledge, work on education and focus governance on water. And find out why there is so little investment in the water issue. It is a systemic problem
Water points are frequently rendered inaccessible by fighting and militarisation, and formally state-run infrastructures are abandoned or damaged. Extreme weather events causes by climate change such as prolonged drought, decreased rainfall or the recent desert locust infestation devastate livelihoods and dwindle already scarce resources.
Harnessing water for peace
But while water access continues to be jeopardised by the crisis in the Sahel, it is also proving to be a driver of peace among fractured communities, with local actors key to finding lasting solutions for the region.
Social agreements over shared access help prevent inter-communal violence and protect water sources from attacks, and local management means water access can be sustained in even the most conflict-affected areas.
“The management of water sources ought to be in the hands of local communities rather than the states,” Bosco Bazié said, who helped facilitate a recent roundtable discussion of local actors from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. “They must be managed by local communities because as soon as a crisis erupts in an area the first to leave is the state.”
“We must build [resilience] by taking into account the abilities and the knowledge of traditional local actors, and so that even if the central state should flee back to the capital – because very often, the feeling that communities have is that as soon as there is a security crisis, people are abandoned – in order for local actors not to feel powerless, they must be allowed to recreate their ability to manage water resources,” Bozco Bazié said.
Social agreements over shared access help prevent inter-communal violence and protect water sources from attacks, and local management means water access can be sustained in even the most conflict-affected areas
The role of the international community
According to Emmanuel de Romémont, a former general in the French air force and founder of Plus d’eau pour le Sahel (More Water for the Sahel), developed countries should contribute with scientific capacity and knowledge. Groundwater sources, in particular, could hold enormous potential for local populations, the benefits of which haven’t yet been measured.
“We need to improve and transmit knowledge, work on education and focus governance on water. And find out why there is so little investment in the water issue. It is a systemic problem.”
Other panellists insisted that local actors already have plenty of knowledge, but what is often lacking is indeed the resources: “The local skills exist,” said Marion Weichelt, former Swiss Ambassador to Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. “What is missing for management is the means to finance national and regional solutions.
While many international donors are responding to calls for greater funding to address the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region, these funds are not being directed towards improving water access or put in the hands of local actors who need them most.
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