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In Burkina Faso – a large, landlocked West African country of about 13 million almost completely eclipsed by the Sahel and bordering the Sahara Desert – the issue of water supply pervades every aspect of society. The environment is subject to extreme differences between seasons, and water does not exist in adequate abundance to sustain large populations. Frequent droughts plague the area, ensuring perpetual water deficit and leaving people prone to the whims of nature. Often, limited water resources have become contaminated through the irresponsible disposal of sewage and septic waste.
In rural parts of the country, only 0.01 percent of Burkinabé have access to water through private taps, only two percent through public standpipes, 46.1 percent through public wells, 41.2 percent through boreholes, and six percent through sources like rivers, streams, and ponds. Even compared to such mind-numbing figures, Burkina Faso’s urban water sector is not performing much better. Only an urban pittance of 25 percent of city-dwelling Burkinabé access water through private taps, 47.7 percent access through public standpipes, 20.9 percent access through wells or boreholes, and 5.7 percent are privileged enough to buy their water from vendors. And here – in the urban water sector – is where the action on water is heating up.
Ouagadougou, the capital, is a city with a population well over a million and swollen with peoples displaced due to severe drought and regional conflict. The city’s growth has long exceeded the development of a water supply, which relies on a number of vintage dams and shallow borings, and the residents routinely face severe shortages. Since May 2003, Ouagadougou has been in the midst of a water supply-instigated crisis. Four dams located around the city can only produce an estimated 80,000 cubic meters of water – an amount which constitutes a frightening 70 percent of demand. As the government has had to institute extreme rationing measures, often stymieing irrigation and construction efforts, the price of water charged by private vendors has gone up ten-fold, from CFA 200 for 200 liters to CFA 2000.
As the situation in Ouagadougou gets hairier, desperation has morphed into an excited fervor over the prospect of the Ziga Dam, due for completion in 2006. The potential increased water capacity from the dam would allow for the installation of 50,000 new private connections on top of 40,000 already existing and the addition of 400 public standpipes to the 600 currently in use. Money to finance the dam and associated infrastructure has rolled in from international financiers and lenders, who regard Ziga Dam as panacea for Ouagadougou’s water supply problems. Such optimism even prompted OPEC Fund (one of many donors) literature to blithely and incorrectly suggest, "With a steady supply of clean water delivered to directly to their homes, the time-consuming task of queuing at standpipes and carrying water home will become a thing of the past." However, sadly, projections indicate that by 2015 demand from Ouagadougou will have again outstripped new supply from Ziga. Long-term, it seems the water crisis here is deepening. Widespread damming of rivers heavily taxes the region’s extremely limited water resources through evaporation and seepage and leaves the devastated supply susceptible to microbiological threat, including schistosomiasis or bilharziasis.
The flood of donor dollars has brought with it the specter of privatization. In January 2001 (two months before the World Bank’s announcement of the US$70 million Ouagadougou Water Supply Project meant, in part, to complement the future dam), Burkina’s well-performing national water authority awarded the French corporation, Veolia (formerly Vivendi Water), a five-year water support and service contract, heavily financed by the World Bank. The contract covers the management of customer service and financing. Suez, another French water corporation, holds a construction contract in the country financed by the French development agency. Prior to privatization, the water utility had gone through an 8-year restructuring process which included expansion to low-income households, reaching 86% of residents. In August 2001 thousands of Burkinabé workers went on a strike against the massive privatization projects pushed by World Bank loan conditions. The strike came after the parliament approved privatization of the public utilities.
The clear influence of the World Bank and the strong position of Veolia have struck fear into organizations currently fighting to maintain water as a human right and not another commodity for corporate profit. Amongst these ORCADE are monitoring water policy in order to safeguard Burkina Faso’s water resources. When the well runs dry again after 2015, who will have control of the water, the people or the corporate profiteers?
In the News:
Water for All initiated a new collaborative website to help coordinate our global campaign focusing on the water transnational, Suez. The website is tri-lingal and collects information regarding the abuses, problematic projects, community protests, and exploitative policies of Suez, Go to:
“Water privatisation in Africa,” David Hall, Kate Bayliss, and Emanuele Lobina, Public Services International Research Unit June 2002, www.psiru.org/reports/2002-06-W-Africa.doc, p7,8.
 “Water privatisation in SSA: Progress, problems and policy implications,” Kate Bayliss, PSIRU www.servicesforall.org/html/WaterPolicy/Bayliss-SSA%20Water.doc, p8.
 “Burkina Faso: Hundreds March Against Privatization,” UN Integrated Regional Information Network August 17th, 2001 http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=34
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