Tue, Jun 11, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Abidjan’s struggle highlights Ivory Coast’s water woes

Thomson Reuters Foundation, ABIDJAN

A polluted watercourse crosses a slum in Abidjan on Tuesday last week.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Every other day, Kouakou Marie Laure wakes up at 1am to fetch water for her family.

The mother of three carries a bucket on her head back and forth to the nearest affordable water source, a couple of kilometers away, about a dozen times to replenish the family’s 200 liter tank.

The water usually lasts through two days of drinking, bathing, cleaning, and washing clothes.

Laure, utterly exhausted by the end, often is not finished until sunrise. Then she must leave again to work a full day as an assistant at a nearby school.

“Sometimes I don’t have enough energy and we just have to survive without much water for a while,” said the 39-year-old, sweating in Abidjan’s harsh midday sun.

Her concrete block home, shared between four families, lies in Abobo, a deprived district with extremely limited infrastructure and scant running water in the northern part of the Ivory Coast’s largest city.

Rapid population growth, increasing urbanization and climate change have made it more difficult to supply water in Abidjan, and led to chronic shortages, residents and experts say.

“Since the 1970s, climate change has led to a fall of around 10 percent to 20 percent in rainfall, meaning that the underground water reserves that the city relies on are not being replenished and have reduced,” said Bamory Kamagate, a water scientist at Nangui Abrogoua University in Abidjan.

Deforestation, urbanization and farming also have reduced the quality of natural water, while “uncontrolled growth” in population has increased demand, he added.

The Ivory Coast’s fertility rate is 4.8 births per woman, one of the highest in the world, according to the World Bank.

In 2015, 40 percent of West Africans lived in urban areas and the UN projects that will reach 60 percent in 2050.

A UN report published in March found that water use globally has risen about 1 percent a year since the 1980s and today more than 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress.

By 2050, global demand for water is set to continue growing, by up to 30 percent, it said.

“Stress levels will continue to increase as demand for water grows and the effects of climate change intensify,” the report said.

Last year in Bouake, Ivory Coast’s second-largest city, reduced rainfall led to three weeks without running water and the government was forced to use tanker trucks to bring in emergency supplies of water.

Thousands of people temporarily relocated to the capital, Yamoussoukro.

Since 2011, funding by the French Development Agency has helped the Ivorian government build water pipelines to 12,000 homes in poorer parts of Abidjan. It has also paid for smart water meters that track consumption and to train residents to use water more efficiently.

Water consumption is monitored in real time via computer and families using the meters pay 66 percent less on their water bills than average, the French agency said.

About 22,000 of the smart meters had been installed as of April last year, but with a fast-growing population of nearly 5 million, up from less than 2 million in 1988, many inhabitants of Abidjan continue to struggle to access water.

“The poverty and the lack of infrastructure make it difficult in Abobo,” said Jeff Toure, a coordinator in Abidjan for Action Against Hunger, a Paris-based non-governmental organization that has been helping deliver the French development project.

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