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'We want water' say residents as Abidjan grows drier

  • 'We want water' say residents as Abidjan grows drier
    A woman cleans eating utensils with soap and water in Abobo, a district in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, May 4, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Peter Yeung

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Thomson Reuters Foundation
Our global editorial team of 46 journalists and 150 freelancers covers the world’s under-reported stories at the heart of aid, development, women’s rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change.

Every other day, Kouakou Marie Laure wakes up at 1 am 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 kilometres away, about a dozen times to replenish the family's 200-litre tank.

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

Laure, utterly exhausted by the end, often isn't 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 urbanisation and climate change have made it more difficult to supply water in Abidjan, and led to chronic shortages, residents and led to chronic shortages experts say.

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

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

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% of West Africans lived in urban areas and the United Nations projects that will reach 60% in 2050.

A U.N. 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 noted.

Receptacles used to gather and store water are seen at a home in Abobo, a district in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, May 4, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Peter Yeung

Pipelines, Smart Meters

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% 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 Touré, a coordinator in Abidjan for Action Against Hunger, a Paris-based non-governmental organisation that has been helping deliver the French development project.

"Precarious neighbourhoods like these have had growth spurts that weren't planned for," he said.

Some of Adobo's million residents have resorted to buying water from private companies.

Koffi Adjoua Delphine, a 36-year-old hotel cleaner, said she spends up to 2000CFA ($3.40) a day on water during Abobo's regular shortages.

"It's a considerable amount of money for us and we can't afford it forever," she said.

New water

Last month Ivory Coast agreed a $186,000 deal with a U.S. firm to build a treatment plant to process water from Lagune Aghien, a large freshwater reserve near Abidjan. The plant is expected to be completed in 2021.

"We are investing and trying to build robust networks to disperse the water but it is a costly and complicated process," said Virginie Djedje, the National Office of Drinking Water's head for Abidjan.

"It's a problem faced by all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and it will not go away easily," she added.

A study published by the African Development Bank last year found the continent needs to spend as much as $170 billion each year to improve infrastructure, including $66 billion on providing universal access to water and sanitation.

But only about $72 billion is available annually for such projects, the study said.

Until the problems are solved, the residents of Abidjan must manage with uncertain access to water.

"My family and I don't ask for much, but we want water," said Laure.

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