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Burundi: improving access to drinking water

06-11-2008 Interview

The hills of this small central African country are rich with the blue gold sorely lacking elsewhere on the continent. And yet too many people are still deprived of drinking water. An interview with Filipa Anacoreta, coordinator of the ICRC’s “WatHab” (water and habitat) programmes in Burundi.

   

   
 
Filipa Anacoreta, ICRC water and habitat coordinator for Burundi    
     Why is drinking water a problem in Burundi?  

Unlike other countries, Burundi has no lack of water resources. The problem is that they are not being properly managed.

Most of the system dates from the time when Burundi was a Belgian colony and has not been updated since then. Take Rumonge, for instance, a city in the south of the country with a popula tion of 50,000. The water system was designed for 10,000. The infrastructure cannot keep up with demand, so people draw water from the lake. This has already caused a cholera epidemic. In 2006, the ICRC responded by launching a project to increase the production of drinking water in the city.

In addition, the water system is still suffering the consequences of the fighting that racked the country in the 1990s, destroying much of its water infrastructure. A local study has shown that if all of the infrastructure were repaired, 70% of the rural population would have drinking water, whereas at the moment that figure is only 40%.

   
  ©ICRC /C. Kaplun    
 
The new reservoir at Rumonge    
     

 What are the ICRC’s priorities with regard to WatHab programmes?  

    

When the ICRC returned to Burundi in 1999, security constraints obliged us to stick to the towns. We only restarted work in rural areas in 2004. Most major agencies are focusing on the towns, whereas the needs are greatest in the countryside; 70% of the urban population has access to drinking water, as against just 40% of the rural population. The ICRC decided to devote a large part of its WatHab effort to those parts of the countryside with the least infrastructure.

Our primary objective is for the maximum number of people to have drinking water. In most cases, this involves renovating, upgrading or extending existing networks.

 Who are the ICRC’s main partners?  

    

We are working closely with the Regideso (the national water and electricity provider) on all urban projects. In rural areas, our partner is the DGHER (Direction générale de l'hydraulique et des énergies rurales, directorate-general for water and rural energy).

Our partners do not always have the technical capacity to run these projects. One of our roles is therefore to provide training. At the end of this year, personnel from both organizations will be attending a course given by specialists from the International Office for Water (Limoges, France) on the management of pumping stations and generators.

The ICRC is also training local water committees and community water boards and encouraging them to take up their responsibilities. The aim is that they themselves manage and maintain the infrastructure once it has been repaired. This includes collecting fees.

 What are the main projects currently under way or scheduled for the near future?  

   
  ©ICRC/C. Kaplun    
 
Work in progress at Mabanda    
    The delegation assessed the water situation in the first half of 2008. This enabled us to prioritize work in accordance with needs, or the degree of commitment on the part of the authorities to manage and maintain the installations.

We have just completed two urban projects, one in Gatumba and the other in Mabanda. Once Regideso has finished its part of the work, these two projects will provide water for 37,000 people.

A rural project providing water for almost 9,000 people was recently completed in Isale, and a project benefiting a population of 10,000 is nearing completion in Rwanzari.

In 2009, we plan to renovate catchments and construct infrastructure around existing springs at four rural sites in the provinces of Cibitoke, Mabanda, Ruyigi and Kirundo. We also intend to renovate an urban catchment in Cibitoke.