Mali: reduce inter-community tensions by managing conflicts around water points.

Water point, Kidal, Mali, 2016 ©Tiecoura Ndaou

Article from the letter from pS-Eau n°88 of March 2019: https://www.pseau.org/outils/lettre/

Solidarités International has been present in the Kidal region since 2013 and carries out projects to rehabilitate water points. Its action improves access to water in the region but also reduces inter-community tensions, crystallized around water points. In a post-crisis context, the NGO relies on community leaders.

In the Kidal region of northern Mali, rainfall is very low, with an average interannual amplitude ranging from 75 mm in the driest years to 150 mm in the most watered years. In this context, rivers are as precious as they are temporary (wadis); water flow is a function of rainfall. Groundwater recharge is thus irregular, since it depends on the season: in the dry season, many water points dry up. The quantity of water available is therefore generally insufficient in the Kidal region, which is a source of high tensions, especially during dry periods. Indeed, the Kidal region is mainly inhabited by herders, whether or not they practice transhumance, and who must share the few water points available between them. The practice of transhumance is a breeding strategy particularly adapted here to environmental conditions since it allows the exploitation of pastoral and hydraulic resources dispersed both in space and time. Livestock farmers travel with their herds for several months of the year in search of uncertain water and grazing resources. Domestic uses also depend on local water resources, to the extent that they exist and are available.

An important challenge is therefore to control competition between local herders, transhumant herders and local populations for access to water. The quantities of water corresponding to the needs of pastoralists are such that this has a strong impact on the volumes left available to local populations, especially since these needs are also constantly increasing (high population growth) and their distribution is changing according to the restriction of mobility caused by local insecurity. This insecurity, which has persisted since the 2012 political-military crisis, has disrupted transhumance routes and made access to water more problematic. In addition, animal gatherings can lead to deterioration and contamination of infrastructure, particularly at water points where traditional drainage systems are not able to provide access and service time adapted to needs. Finally, since 2012, the structures in charge of water management and maintenance of already inefficient installations have been weakened and the social fabric disorganized.

SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, present in the Kidal region since 2013, is strongly interested in these issues of access to water at the community level in relation to agro-pastoral issues. It carries out projects to rehabilitate water points, with the underlying objectives of contributing to the fight against malnutrition but also to reduce tensions between communities (between local herders and transhumant herders) and within communities (between the different Arab, Fulani, Tuareg communities, etc.) built around water points. For SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, acting on water points means not only acting on improving access to water, but also on the tensions that this access generates.

Village in Kidal, Mali, 2016 ©Tiecoura Ndaou

Since 2015, 46 Improved Pastoral Hydraulic Systems (SHPA) have been implemented in the Kidal region. These water points have been targeted on the basis of the following criteria:

  • The recharge capacity and depth of groundwater,
  • The public status of the water point (for community use),
  • The water needs of different types of users,
  • The demographic weight of populations and livestock,
  • Accessibility of everyone to the water point,
  • Community requests.
  • In general, 47% of the needs at the targeted water points are for domestic water uses, while the remaining 53% are for other needs, mainly livestock.

A spatial organization to separate uses

The rehabilitated water points are organized in the space in such a way as to serve both families and animals. Water is distributed on two levels, on the one hand to standpipes to serve the population for domestic uses of water (cooking, washing, drinking), and on the other hand to water troughs for livestock feed. The organization model was submitted to users during the first phase of the project to improve it; the proposals made concerned the number of water troughs, the separation of traffic leading to each of the water troughs, the distance between the standpipes and the water troughs, the security of the sites, etc.

An increase in water availability

The boreholes and wells have been rehabilitated, cemented, closed and equipped with safety coping and a roof slab with an inspection hatch. A submersible pump was installed, powered by solar panels. This pump is connected to a water tower with a capacity of 5 to 10 m3 which guarantees the regularity of the water supply in all seasons. It is placed at a height of 4 meters to provide water by gravity. The construction of this reservoir was essential since it acts as a buffer between the well’s recharge time and the population’s supply. The rehabilitation work carried out therefore provides storage capacity via the mine drainage system to manage the resource in a rational way. Where three people were required to draw water with an animal traction system for a herd of an average of about 100 head, today only one person is needed to simply guide and supervise the cattle. In addition, water is accessible by several people simultaneously, which allows considerable time savings, energy savings (more animal traction), and therefore, a reduction in tensions between users.

In addition, the solar-powered water tower, which is almost inexhaustible in this region of Africa, and the physical separation of uses ensure a better sanitary quality of water: neither people nor animals are then in a position to pollute the resource.

Toulouft Water Tower, Kidal, Mali, 2016 ©Tiecoura Ndaou

Finally, in 15 localities, some households were able to start market gardening thanks to water drawn from the rehabilitated water point, which underlines two things: 1) a good appropriation of the service by users, and 2) an improvement in the volumes of water available to meet agricultural needs, thus contributing to food diversification.

The establishment of management bodies

The context of insecurity linked to the political and humanitarian crisis of 2012 has had the effect of disorganizing the often already fragile water distribution management and regulatory bodies. In addition, it should be noted that, in the past, water pricing was an uncommon practice, except in the urban areas of Kidal ville. The challenge for SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, in partnership with local associations, was therefore to place the action in the perspective of appropriation of hydraulic works by the beneficiary communities in order to ensure their sustainability, in particular through regular maintenance and care and appropriate protection. At the end of 2018, of the 46 improved pastoral water systems rehabilitated, only 5 are not functional because they are poorly managed (about 10%): the committees set up do not function or have dissolved, making maintenance impossible.

24 of the water points are managed by water point management committees (COGEPE), composed of 6 to 8 members. The contribution mechanisms have been discussed and chosen by the communities and take various forms. Some committees charge a monthly flat rate per household, regardless of the quantity drawn: in Kalaman in the Kidal circle for example, households pay 2500 FCFA per month, in Intadeyné it is 1000 FCFA per household. In other localities, the rate is on a volumetric basis. It is calculated per litre drawn: in the Achibogo circle, households pay 1 FCFA per litre (i.e. 10 FCFA per 10-litre drum), and livestock breeders pay 25 FCFA per head of small ruminant each month, and 250 FCFA per head of large ruminant. At the Enhad water point in the Abeibara circle, farmers pay 500 FCFA per drinker. In three localities, users have decided to pay punctually up to the amount of the observed breakdown; the COGEPEs are then in charge of collecting the necessary money.

In 14 water points, water is distributed free of charge because no arrangements have so far been found on a cost recovery system. SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL teams are working with these communities to develop an approach that may be appropriate for them to ensure the sustainability of management, but habits at this level are very difficult to change in the short term.

In addition, another issue arises with regard to the transparency and security of funds related to water point revenues. On the one hand, in the Kidal region, banks and other microfinance systems necessary for the official security of funds are non-existent; on the other hand, local practices are not conducive to the keeping of accounting records. Indeed, beyond the high illiteracy rates that are problematic for the maintenance of cash flow records, management transparency is more in terms of trust between committee members than written accountability according to more Western standards.

With the primary objective of acceptance by the population, SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL has so far had little involvement in controlling the management of revenues from water sales, and has focused mainly on training COGEPEs in the basics of accounting management. However, starting in the first half of 2019, sessions will be held to collectively develop simplified business plans for water points so that COGEPEs can become aware of the frequency and cost of major failures of a solar mine drainage system.

The role of community leaders

Since the crisis, local and government authorities have been driven out of northern Mali. It is therefore not possible for SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL to work with the local authorities and decentralised services that previously existed. On the other hand, community leaders are strongly involved in the intervention because they are essential interlocutors in the success of the projects insofar as, if they accept to be part of it, they can contribute to the cohesion of the community of water users. Their role is twofold, both in terms of awareness and mobilization.

Water point, Kidal, Mali, 2016 ©Tiecoura Ndaou

Conclusions and perspectives

Through this project, Solidarités International’s intervention is focused on two particularly acute and interrelated issues in this arid Sahel region. The problem of water scarcity, irregular availability and threats posed by global warming is at the heart of the project. A second issue is added to this problem: that of the tensions caused by the shortage of this resource, particularly around water points.

SHPAs were cited as an example of a model to be promoted in northern Mali by the pastoralists themselves and the stakeholders present at a Water Forum held in this region. Indeed, the mechanized pumping system has significantly reduced waiting time and increased water availability. The teams clearly noted that this, combined with the best spatial organization separating the different types of uses, has contributed to a general appeasement between users. The challenge now for the teams is to ensure sustainable social management of water points, something that is gradually being implemented. Behaviours at this level are complicated to change, and it is to be expected that support will last several years.

Emmanuelle Maisonnave, Learning Officer, Solidarités International
Aude Lazzarini, Head of the EHA division, Solidarités International