The desert region of Sahel, in the north of Burkina Faso, is the driest and hottest part in the country. Since 2018, this region has been at the centre of a growing armed conflict, which has engulfed much of the greater African Sahel that covers also the neighboring countries. As a result, many communities in this region are in need of humanitarian assistance. Violence and climate change have left a highly vulnerable population without water and at great risk of disease.
Aïssé Ouedraogo arrived at the water point, a few kilometres from her home, at four in the morning. Six hours later, she has barely filled 10 jerry cans with clean water, each of them carrying just 20 litres. “I can't take more than that. There is not enough water in this region, and if I take more than I need, the others will not have enough water,” says Aïssé.
In this water point in the district of Gorom Gorom, dozens of women like Aïssé wait each day for their turn to fill their jerry cans with clean water. Aïssé fled to Gorom Gorom because of violence in her village Boulékessi, 85 kilometres away. Displaced people use this water point for their daily needs, such as cooking and domestic work.
The long wait to fetch water, as well as the distance between the water point and their place of residence are among the main difficulties for many displaced people. "If we can't find water, we have to buy it and one jerry can cost 100 FCFA [€0.15],” says Aïssé. “Sometimes we don't have a choice and it is very difficult for us." Displaced people do not have regular access to work and, when they do, they work as daily labourers earning very little money.
A worsening humanitarian crisis
Since 2018, the Sahel has been plagued by continuous violence between various armed groups and the Burkinese armed forces, and between the armed groups themselves. This has created a serious humanitarian crisis, with large-scale population movements and the arrival of refugees from neighbouring Niger and Mali.
Over 350,000 people1 are currently displaced in the Sahel, around a third of the region's total population, and 628,000 people are in need of assistance for water, hygiene and sanitation. In both the areas with ongoing violence and those hosting thousands of displaced people, access to basic services is a big challenge and the health risks are enormous. Before the conflict, the region had already experienced strong seasonal climatic variations that had put pressure on its limited water resources. According to the UN Water, Hygiene and Sanitation humanitarian sector group, around 92,000 people are in need of assistance in the Gorom Gorom district.
Six out of the 13 regions in Burkina Faso are affected by the water crisis: Sahel, Centre-Nord, Nord, Est, Boucle du Mouhoun and Centre-Est. MSF is working in four of these to bring water to people in need. In 2020, MSF teams distributed approximately 133,934,000 litres of water, an amount equivalent to 45 Olympic-sized swimming pools. MSF currently provides medical and humanitarian assistance to local communities and displaced people in Burkina Faso. Services include free basic and specialist healthcare, vaccination campaigns and the distribution of relief items. In 2020, more than 478,000 medical consultations were carried out.