In Mali’s northeastern Kidal region water shortages threaten lives and the region’s very stability, residents and local officials say.
Local and national authorities – backed by international agencies – have sent truckloads of water and thousands of tons of rice and fodder to Kidal, where animals are dying daily and water for drinking and bathing is increasingly rare. While residents say the assistance has been significant, they say it is insufficient and long-term solutions are indispensable.
“Catastrophe” is in store if water shortages are not resolved, according to a report the Kidal regional assembly recently submitted to President Amadou Toumani Touré following an evaluation in the region. A continuation of today’s conditions “will set in motion a vicious cycle: chaotic displacement of people, tension and conflict and urban overpopulation.”
“The region’s very stability is threatened.”
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The local authorities call for building, reinforcing and maintaining wells and bore holes, but also innovative ways to conserve and manage “the precious little water we have”.
Kidal, like much of the Sahel, receives little rain every year. But in recent years rains have been particularly erratic, starting late and ending early. Housseini Maïga, president of a government and civil society water organisation in Mali, said a town north of Gao, Mali, “saw not a drop of rain in all of 2009 – nothing”.
Maïga was among water experts and authorities attending a 23-27 July series of meetings in the Senegalese capital Dakar, organised by Global Water Partnership.
“Rains are cyclical and for a long time we have had good years and bad,” Maïga told IRIN. “But in recent years we see only decline.”
Kidal needs “colossal investment” in water management in order to avoid the worst,” Yaya Dolo, regional governor, told IRIN.
Lack of safe drinking water is Kidal’s principal problem, said Yacouba Sangaré, head doctor in Kidal. “The water table is getting lower and lower….. Having water to drink and bathe has become a luxury.”
Most children coming for medical care have diarrhoea and dehydration, he told IRIN.
He added: “I have been in Kidal since 2004 and this is the first time I have seen hunger to this extent – not only among the people but among the animals.”
“One loses count of the animals dying,” Alhabass Ag Intallah, member of parliament from Kidal, told IRIN. “The best we can hope for this year is to save one-tenth of the livestock. And in this region where people live off their animals, losing that much can only mean famine. Already we are seeing undernutrition in the population – particularly children – because of the disappearing livestock.”
Al Hamdou Amoune, like most people in the region, breeds livestock. “I don’t know what will become of my family. I lost half of my herd and I’m frightened for the rest. Yes the government has sent help but it won’t be enough.” He said the region particularly needs water towers.
“Life has never been easy in Kidal but these days it just gets worse and worse,” teacher Walet Altanata told IRIN. “Without water, what can we do? The heat, the sun – we are used to that. But we cannot bear a lack of water. This is why we implore the government and its partners to help.”