• Opinion by Armand Houanye (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)
  • Interpress service

He made these remarks on November 13 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 in the South West, North West and Sahel regions including Gorom-Gorom, Tinasane and Markoye carrying jerry cans to collect water.

This made him question why there were no development projects in these poor regions. The people, he lamented, walk for miles to get water for the cattle that die on the way.

There are no roads for trucks to even transport cattle fodder to keep the cattle, he reflected, before referring to the Kongoussi-Djibo road bridge that was built in the 1950s and has fallen into such disrepair that it can no longer carry the trucks that would otherwise now take rotting local produce to market.

All he says, due to a lack of investment in the construction and maintenance of important infrastructure.

His speech depicts a reality in the Sahel region where terrorist attacks have been rampant since 2012, following the assassination of Mouammar Kadhafi and the subsequent looting of Libya’s weapons depots. Many villages have since been abandoned in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, with thousands of people displaced without any proper government intervention to curb the violence.

Since clean drinking water is a basic need, the lack of access to it triggers many problems at all levels of society. Traditionally, villages are located near waterways to allow for easy supply of water, as well as gardening to produce basic ingredients for food that can be consumed and sold for cash for the community.

With the increase in terrorist attacks mostly in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso but reaching coastal countries such as Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin, many villages have been abandoned or are under the control of armed terrorist groups that impose their own rules and dictates on the local population.

Displaced populations are deprived of their traditional water sources, be they natural watercourses, standpipes or boreholes, cutting off their water supply and thus access to their physical and economic livelihoods.

“They set the law for the management and use of water and other natural resources by demarcating areas to be exploited,” a local elected official told me in a terrorist-dominated zone in central-southern Mali, adding that “the arable areas are decreasing and they occupy the forest areas suitable for agriculture and which contain the local water reserves.”

The heads of forcibly occupied villages are required to cooperate with these groups. They are therefore the preferred interlocutors for anyone “seeking permission to operate” in these controlled areas.

The village chief’s opinion is conditional on the group to which the village belongs having been approved in advance. There are real negotiations with these terrorist groups before any projects or partners are allowed to enter the territory.

The reality in the Sahel countries in general is that successive governments since independence have concentrated their “administration” in urban areas. But once you leave the urban areas, the population is left to fend for itself with an administration that is more oppressive and not the least bit concerned with providing sustainable answers to the development needs of these localities.

The agents of land registry (customs), law enforcement (police, gendarmes) and conservation (water and forests) are quicker to find ways to engage in extortion than to offer the poor the services they need.

“We’ve lost a lot of funding that has been transferred to other locations deemed more accessible,” a local authority official explained 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 some partners to install water supply systems,” he added.

GWP West Africa implements EU-funded project “Water for Growth and Poverty Reduction in the Mekrou River Basin in Niger” but they could not start the project as planned in August 2020 due to a terrorist attack that tragically killed eight people.

Water management and development is only 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 management of water resources and land while ensuring that the necessary investments are made to sustainably respond to the water-related development needs of people living in urban and rural areas at all levels in the Sahel- the countries.

IPS UN agency

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