Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Poverty & SDGs

WATER-MAURITANIA: Govt Needs to Invest

Ebrima Sillah

NOUAKCHOTT, Jul 7 2009 (IPS) - Ndey Sall, a resident of Sixième, one of the poorest suburbs in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, spends the equivalent of a dollar a day on water. That’s almost half of her income – not much left to pay for food, rent, or medicine if a family member falls sick.

Sixième, like many other slums in the capital, has no access to pipe borne water. Water is provided by private operators at great cost. Sall buys water daily from a privately-owned tank not far from her house at a cost of 200 ouguiya per litre.

Sall says she requires around 200 litres a day for cooking, drinking and washing for herself, her husband and their three children. It’s an enormous expense, but typical for Sixième residents, where almost everyone lives below the poverty line of two dollars a day.

“Everything is expensive: rent, cooking oil, transport. Everything is just expensive. I would like to urge the government to either reduce the price of water or increase people’s salaries.”

John Coker, a refugee from Sierra Leone who also lives in Sixième, laments the high cost of water in the slums.

“I buy water every day. I consume five 25-liter containers because this is the worst area of Nouakchott to live in terms of access to clean drinking water. So as you can see, I am spending a lot of money on water and this is affecting my budget greatly, because if you don’t have money and you go to that tap, they will never credit you….that place is cash and carry.”

Private water providers have dug their own wells at the foot of the rocky hills outside the capital. The water is transported in by truck to the slums. In addition to the private water tanks, there are a large number of donkey carts, piled high with plastic jerry cans, that roam the slums selling water door to door.

“I supply residents residents in Sixième a minimum of 75 jerry cans of water a day,” a boy driving the cart told IPS. “Each of the jerry cans contains 50 litres. It is a good business for me because I pay my rent from this job and I also take care of my aging parents. I hope to save enough money for myself to start my own business in future.”

Mauritania is estimated to be 75 percent desert so naturally there are acute problems with supplying water in most parts of the country. The problem in the capital is compounded by increased rural to urban migration, which is putting more pressure on the existing water infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people live in unplanned slums in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott with minimal or basic amenities.

Hadrami Ould Khattri is head of a local NGO which focuses on sustainable water development for the rural and urban poor. He says government needs to overhaul water management and supply in the country.

“We all know that water is life…without water there is no life at all. This has been said and well known. And that is why the government needs to put in place a water policy with the local people and their representative being centre of it all in order to help these poor have access to safe drinking water,” he says.

“We’ve seen that there have been so many tragedies and epidemics and so many people get sick and get water-born diseases from those taps. It has also been noticed at hospitals that when people are diagnosed they discover that the origin of their sickness is normally due to the water they drink.”

Mauritanians are going to the polls to elect a new president on Jul. 18, following a coup in October 2008. Slum dwellers are now challenging political leaders to deliver on their promises of providing clean drinking water in the poor neighbourhoods. Khattri says any new elected president will have to treat the water problem in the slums seriously.

“Government really needs to invest, both in terms of funding water taps in different places and also let local people be involved in the management of that water as well,” he said.

“They also need to work on the (pricing) as well, because it is not fair at all that some of these poor people who are making a thousand times less than the average Mauritanian family pay three times more than what the richer people are paying.”

IPS made several unsuccessful attempts to talk to the Mauritanian government minister responsible for water resources about efforts to provide affordable clean drinking water to the people in the slums.

The ministry of water resources did respond in writing: “The government is concerned about the welfare of everybody in Mauritania including those living in the slums. Work has already begun to get a pipeline built from the Senegal-Mauritania River to ensure the availability of drinking water in Nouakchott and other big cities. This work will complete by 2011,” the statement read.

In the meantime, slum dwellers in the capital will continue to rely on expensive private water providers to access this precious commodity.

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