Published on Wednesday 26 April 2017

Between conflict, extremism, climate change and poverty, the 150 million Sahelians are facing immense challenges on the issue of access to water. Add to this the demographic explosion (the region’s population will double in the next twenty years).

The Sahel has been experiencing chronic climatic disturbances for several decades. Frequent droughts and floods threaten the livelihoods of a population that depends heavily on agriculture for its survival. Especially since 98% of the water used for agriculture comes from rainfall. Because of frequent climatic shocks, vulnerable households are less able to cope with crises and struggle to recover in time.

Water, a migration issue

Water is becoming increasingly scarce in Sahelian countries, which often already suffer from a structural shortage of water infrastructure. In some regions, this lack of access to water has been exacerbated by conflict or insecurity.

Water chore in Mali – ©Tiecoura Ndaou

In Mali, the 2012 conflict led to the flight of all the technical services of the state in the north, and consequently a flagrant deterioration of the access to water, which was destroyed, looted, or simply left to be abandoned. Some villages are desperately lacking this vital resource. Water then becomes a migration issue; people move to find water where it is available, in order to drink, wash, cultivate or provide water to their livestock. In Cameroon, the northern part of the country, the Extreme North, historically deficient in terms of access to basic services, has seen the situation worsen with massive population displacements caused by insecurity and violence. With nearly 200,000 people displaced in the region in 2016, some host villages have seen their population increase drastically, creating additional pressure on an already scarce water resource, and risks of inter-community conflict.

In 20 years, water availability has dropped by 40%.

Water is also a major health issue. Lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities, as well as poor hygiene conditions, exacerbated by often limited or even failing health systems, are all obstacles to adequate health care, and make some communities extremely vulnerable to waterborne diseases and epidemics. The lack of access to safe drinking water is also an aggravating factor in malnutrition, a true Sahelian scourge, which continues to reach critical levels in some regions. In Chad, severe acute malnutrition exceeds the emergency threshold in half of the country’s regions.
While per capita water availability in the Sahelian countries has dropped by more than 40% in the last twenty years, joint efforts by aid workers, development actors and governments must continue to be made in order to ensure that everyone has sufficient and sustainable access to this precious resource.

By Caroline Courtois Head of Operations of SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL in the Sahel

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