Burkina Faso: Handwashing a challenge without running water (Le Monde)

| April 27, 2020

Download this story

News Brief

Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is an important strategy for preventing the transmission of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. But for many, this can be challenging, particularly for those with limited access to water. Elise Zebango and her seven children live in Tanlarghin, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. At 7:30 a.m., she is in line at the community borehole, which runs out of water by 8 a.m. Mrs. Zebango collects 200 litres of water which needs to serve her family for the day for everything from drinking and cooking to cleaning, laundry, and handwashing.

Elise Zebango, a mother of seven, lives in Tanlarghin, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. There is no running water or electricity here. So, up to three times a day, Mrs. Zebango travels to the neighbourhood public tap to get water for her family. By 7:30 in the morning, the line is already long.

In Burkina Faso, few families have access to clean water for drinking and washing. Faced with COVID-19, this means that it is difficult to maintain the hygiene practices recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent transmission. Washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is a challenge for many.

The public tap is busy all day long. In the heat, the residents of Tanlarghin need water for all kinds of tasks. At the current rate of usage, the manager of the public tap, Bruno Bazemo, is worried that the reserve will soon run out.

Although it is part of the capital, Tanglarhin is not connected to the National Water and Sanitation Office’s network. Instead, there are a few boreholes. But for the many residents of the community, there are not enough.

During the dry season, reserves for Mrs. Zebango and her neighbours evaporate quickly. Despite efforts to stockpile water, access is simply too limited. By 8 a.m., the water is already depleted.

According to one resident, the solar-powered pump takes two or three hours to recharge and allow further withdrawals.

For Mrs. Zebango, the water she collected is barely enough. She paid 100 FCFA ($0.17 US) for 200 litres. It will serve her family of nine for the day, but she will have to return tomorrow. If the water runs out early, Mrs. Zebango has had to walk another four kilometres to and from the next nearest public tap.

Like any other community, water is an essential part of daily life. It is required so that residents can drink, shower, cook, do laundry, and especially now, wash their hands. Mrs. Zebango filters the water and separates it for all these tasks.

She says, “It’s exhausting but we have no choice.”

Watching the COVID-19 awareness messages on television, Mrs. Zebango is concerned. For this family and many other Burkinabés, the hygiene practices needed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 are impractical considering their poor access to water.

For this reason, the risk of COVID-19 is high in Tanlarghin.

Désiré Zebango is Mrs. Zebango’s husband. For him, the restrictions on movement related to COVID-19 prevent him from going to work. Without this source of income, Mr. Zebango does not know how his family will make ends meet.

He shows a kitchen without a fridge or pantry and says, “If I don’t work during the day, the family has nothing to eat in the evening.”

COVID-19 is just one threat among many for this family. With only a few bags of rice and maize, they have enough to eat for only a few days.

Mr. Zebango says, “If COVID-19 comes [to Tanlarghin], it will be a disaster. We live together, no one protects themselves, people have to go out to earn their living.”

This story was adapted from an article published by Le Monde and originally titled, “Coronavirus : au Burkina, le lavage des mains au défi de l’accès à l’eau.” To read the full article, go to: https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2020/04/09/coronavirus-au-burkina-le-lavage-des-mains-au-defi-de-l-acces-a-l-eau_6036143_3212.html

Photo credit: Sophie Douce / Le Monde