The Sahel region suffers triple punishment

An interview with Jean Bosco Bazie, Director General of Eau Vive Internationale.

© Jean Bosco Bazié, director general of Eau Vive Internationale, in Boudry, Burkina Faso. Photo: EVI.

Défis Humanitaires : Eau Vive Internationale has been active in Africa for more than 40 years. What actions are you carrying out there and what are you doing for the population in the face of the Coronavirus?

Jean Bosco Bazie : First of all, I would like to thank you for your interest in the work of Eau Vive Internationale. It must be said that Eau Vive Internationale is an association under Burkinabé law that federates the associations Eau Vive Burkina Faso, Eau Vive France, Eau Vive Mali, Eau Vive Niger, Eau Vive Senegal and Eau Vive Togo. It has only been in existence for 6 years, but it capitalizes on more than 40 years of Eau Vive’s action, which it has taken over to continue its solidarity action mainly in the fields of water, sanitation and their governance. Thanks to its continuous action since 1978, more than 3 million Africans have better access to drinking water and better hygiene and sanitation conditions.

More recently, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eau Vive Internationale mobilizes its partners for the construction of new drinking water points, the rehabilitation of broken water points, the popularization of hand-washing devices and the sensitization of populations for the adoption of gestures and measures that are barriers to the spread of the disease.  It is obvious that barrier measures cannot work without drinking water. This is why we have just launched in Boudry (the second largest commune in Burkina Faso with more than 100,000 inhabitants), the construction of 45 new equipped boreholes and the rehabilitation of 5 old boreholes that have broken down will provide access to drinking water for 15,000 people. 1,000 hand-washing devices will be made by local craftsmen as well as cloth masks and soap made locally by women’s and youth groups. These hand-washing and hygiene equipment will be installed in public places (schools, colleges, health centers, markets, etc.) as well as in households. See article on this subject in Burkina tomorrow.

Similar actions have been undertaken in the communes of Béré, Méguet and Zorgho also in Burkina. In the latter commune, for example, and with the financial support of our partners including the Grand Reims in France, the rehabilitation of large boreholes, the construction of a new water tower of 300m3 over 20m high have increased the production capacity of drinking water in this commune and that of its desert with 64km of additional water network, thus reaching more than 30,000 additional people. To strengthen the response capacity of communes, Eau Vive Internationale undertook a support for the re-reading of the planning tools of about ten communes in Burkina Faso in order to take into account the issue of the response to health risks such as COVID-19 and many other natural disasters that could occur.

As you can see, there is still a huge need in Africa for drinking water supply. The tap will not be reinvented in the 21st century. We just lack the financial resources to do more and better.

As a development NGO, how do you operate given the deteriorating security situation along the borders of Mali and Niger to the north and what can you do for the 848,000 forcibly displaced people in the country?

Indeed the Sahel zone is currently suffering the triple pain of lack of water and better living conditions, insecurity and now the risk of the coronavirus pandemic. It is in difficult times that one knows one’s friends. Despite this situation, we have remained in solidarity with the people of this area, relying mainly on local actors to continue the action. However, our teams are frustrated to no longer be able to deploy as before in daily contact with the beneficiaries. But this is the price we have to pay. Unfortunately, several financial partners no longer want to finance actions in these so-called “dangerous” areas, thus inflicting a warning shot to the solidarity action due to the lack of sufficient resources to carry out our projects. This being said, we must recognize that the security situation is getting worse and worse. Despite the armed deployment of the countries of the Sahel and their partners, mainly France with the Barkhane force, the security situation is hardly improving. You have seen the recent terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, which killed some 15 people.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homelands, bruised by armed violence and without means of subsistence.

We are well entitled to think of two things: the ineffectiveness of the military response alone and the unwillingness of certain circles and lobbies to put an end to this situation. This is incomprehensible to us.

As a humanitarian actor, we have no other means than to continue and strengthen our work, however modest it may be.

The Eau Vive International Federation is present in 6 countries of the region whose human development index is among the lowest in the world and three of which are experiencing conflicts. What is your response strategy in terms of development and partnership in such a context?

Our response strategy has always been to rely on local actors. Eau Vive Internationale only provides support to better formulate, implement, monitor and evaluate action. Eau Vive Internationale does not have projects of its own, it is the communities organized around local mechanisms, around communal councils, that have projects that we come to support. We focus on local project management capacity and the local economy with support for wealth-producing activities. Whatever the investments made in the villages, if the inhabitants don’t have enough money to pay for their operations and services, it’s a lost cause. It is therefore a combination of several things: local initiative, local project management capacity, local economy, etc.

©Example of a borehole set up by Eau Vive Internationale, Burkina Faso. Photo: EVI

As its name suggests, your association is particularly committed to access to drinking water. How do you balance your action for populations and political advocacy for the right to water and sanitation?

As a civil society organisation, we participate in reflection and advocacy on public policies on drinking water and sanitation. We act as close as possible to the populations by bringing concrete answers through the construction of water and sanitation infrastructures and the preservation of water resources, but we know that this is not enough. To change the situation in a sustainable way, we must also act on public policies and address the root causes of the lack of access to water for all and to make the right to water effective. This is why we have supported civil society actors in Burkina Faso in 2015 and 2016 to constitutionalize the right to water and sanitation in the social rights recognized in the Burkinabe constitution. The right to water and sanitation thus becomes enforceable and citizens are entitled to demand it.  Here too, it is a combination of concrete actions on the ground and advocacy that can enable us to make progress towards achieving the MDG6 on water and sanitation.

The 9th World Water Forum to be held in Dakar in March 2021 is intended to be a forum for breaking with the past and providing a concrete response to the needs of populations. What do you think about it, what do you expect from it and what are your proposals for this Dakar Forum?

It is the first time that sub-Saharan Africa will host the world’s largest gathering of water stakeholders in March 2021 in Dakar, Senegal. Its programme focuses on the 2030 agenda for transformative actions. For Africa, a real electric shock is needed to catch up on the backlog in access to drinking water, the vital necessity of which needs no reminder. The commitment of the continent’s decision-makers to water is enshrined in the African Water Vision 2025. This commitment made in March 2000 by African governments and the African Union placed sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all at the very top of the agenda to meet basic needs by 2025 at the latest. Then the COVID-19 pandemic intervenes as a final reminder to African leaders who now have only 5 years to keep a promise that has been neglected for 20 years. In addition to this, several hotbeds of conflict and insecurity have emerged, leaving hundreds of thousands of people on the roads and roadsides to fend for themselves. And yet, the world has never been richer. We say that political and economic leaders must stop the hypocrisy that characterizes global geopolitics. The world’s wealth must serve people, make their lives better and not sleep in tax havens. This is my heartfelt cry for this 9th World Water Forum.

Do you want to add something to conclude?

Every minute counts, every drop counts to save lives. If nothing more is done than is currently being done, we will be running the risk of losing humanity. Access to water and sanitation must be declared a “global emergency.”

Jean Bosco Bazié 

Certified Sciences-Po Paris/ISM Dakar/UCT Cape Town/CEFEB Marseille. Graduate in development studies at the Institute of Economic and Social Development Studies (IEDES-Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne) and in groundwater research and exploitation at the Ecole des Mines de l’Aïr (EMAÏR) in Niger.

Jean Bosco Bazié is Operational Director of Eau Vive Internationale which federates 6 associations from Burkina Faso, France, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Eau Vive Internationale has been active in the fields of water, sanitation and economic and social development for more than forty years. Jean Bosco Bazié regularly passes on his vast experience by designing and conducting conferences, workshops and training sessions relating to all water-related disciplines, particularly in the fields of integrated resource management, organisation and management of services, governance, local development and development cooperation.

Jean Bosco Bazié is a member of several organizations, networks and expert panels on water-related issues, related to participatory approaches and more broadly to development issues.