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Burkina Faso: Improving access to safe water in urban areas (by JADE Productions, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Burkina Faso)

Drinking water is a scarce and valuable commodity in Burkina Faso. In cities and rural areas alike, many households lack access to a clean and reliable supply. People collect water from wells and creeks. But the water is often not fit for human consumption. Water-borne illness and disease such as diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera are common.

The town of Banfora is in southwestern Burkina Faso. Drinking water is too expensive for poor households. Banfora has a very low rate of connection to the main water system. Denise Bengaly is a housewife in the town. Like most women, she does not have running water at home.  “We are in a danger zone where there are many diseases that are caused by lack of drinking water. Here, the water table is not deep, only one and a half metres, so that the wells are constantly contaminated by nearby latrines,” explains Ms. Bengaly.

Arsene Tiendréogo works at the National Office of Water and Sanitation. He says this situation is directly related to poverty. “Because some families can’t afford to connect to the water system at home,  they collect water from a public tap, or even from a well.” Many households cannot afford to pay connection charges and bills.

But since June 2010, Ms. Bengaly and women in similar situations have benefited through the Munyu Association. The association collaborates with the Regional Centre for Low-cost Water Supply and Sanitation and the International Francophone Organization to run a women’s outreach program on access to running water. The initiative helps connect low-income households to running water by covering 50% of the connection charge. Households pay half of the 50,000 CFA (about $ 100 American dollars) fee.

Olivia Somé is the program coordinator. She reports that, “Since the program launch, over 50 applications were registered. Thirty households have received their connection.” To be eligible, a household must have a monthly income of less than 50,000 CFA francs. The Munyu Association works mostly with workers who have lost their jobs, and with pensioners and widows. The household must also possess a valid permit to live in the city, and be at least 50 metres from the waterline.

The program covers the nine outlying areas of the city. Ms. Bengaly is a project beneficiary. She used to collect water at the fire hydrant. This task took up a lot of her time, leaving little time for household tasks and running her small business. But for her, this daily battle will soon be a memory.

Participants are enthusiastic about the program. But they know it is not the ultimate solution. Ousmane Ouedraogo also works on the project. He worries that the financial support provided by the project does not include monthly bills. The project lasted only 10 months. It supported around one hundred households to connect to the main water supply. But Mr. Ouedraogo knows that the project needs to find a sustainable way to provide drinking water to a greater number of people.