Improved drinking water and sanitation in Mali

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Latrine block

Brand new latrine block for the fishing community. © Yassi Diabi

Water and sanitation is an important area of work for the Belgian Development Cooperation in Mali. Both the Belgian development agency, Enabel, and the Belgian NGO dedicated to water, Join For Water (formerly Protos), are active there. The Belgian company Denys NV is also laying a drinking water pipeline there, commissioned by the World Bank and other parties. Reason enough, then, for Belgium to chair the group of donors working on water and sanitation in Mali. The group includes Germany, the Netherlands, France, UNICEF and the World Bank, in addition to the relevant Malian ministries.

Clean water and sanitation

Fishing community in need

In late October 2020, the EU Ambassador to Mali, Belgian Bart Ouvry, accompanied by Robin Thiers, First Secretary of the Embassy of Belgium in Mali, visited a Join For Water project in the capital city Bamako. The NGO there had helped 40 households – some 430 residents – who were in dire need.

They were part of a fishing community that had settled on one of the islets in the Niger River 40 years ago. For some reason, they had escaped the attention of the Malian water company and the Bamako city authorities. As a result, residents were unable to access drinking water or any form of sanitation. So they were forced to attend to their needs in the open, an unhealthy and unsafe situation!

'Due to lack of financial resources, we could not see any way out,' explains community leader Gaoussou Konta. 'Until ADéCB (Association pour le Développement des Communautés à la base), a partner of Join For Water, contacted us. Now we have a water point and two latrine blocks. People no longer have to cross the river to get drinking water and can use clean latrines. Everyone also learned about good hygiene: washing hands after going to the toilet, putting potties in front of the children, using the latrines correctly, wiping down areas, and so on.'

Construction of water supply system Bamako

Construction of a drinking water pipeline in Bamako (Mali) by the Belgian company Denys NV. © Denys

Local expertise

Interestingly, the drinking water point also draws on local expertise. A Malian start-up provided an innovative biological filtration system that is based on slow sand filtration. The system can be easily made using local materials and provides drinking water that meets quality standards of the World Health Organization.

Mali does have a great deal of local 'water expertise' available. Just before the summer, our embassy in Bamako hosted another fascinating seminar with Join For Water on the Niger River. The panel included only specialists from Mali, including Prof. Sidy Ba. His young students were also among the speakers. They had mapped the sites where sewage water enters the Niger River directly and without having been treated.

Waterzuiveringsstation bovenaanzicht

The water treatment plant under construction by Enabel in Koulikoro, Mali. © Enabel

Water treatment plant

Enabel is currently implementing a large-scale project in Koulikoro. Despite the fragile state of the country, the construction works of a proper water treatment plant are progressing well. This will process the contents of the city's cesspools and recover by-products from them. In addition, Enabel is providing, among other things, thirteen sustainable drinking water supply systems (water towers, standpipes, individual connections and so on) and fifteen public latrines. Local authorities are being trained to manage water and sewerage services more effectively.

The target group is the population of rural and semi-urban centres in the Koulikoro region, where more than a third of the population has no access to drinking water. The percentage of the population there with access to sanitation is about 35% in urban areas and 14% in rural areas.

Clearly, thanks to the combined efforts of governmental and non-governmental cooperation, as well as the private sector, Belgium is making a significant impact with its work to improve drinking water and sanitation in Mali. This is progress that is desperately needed in order to achieve SDG6 (clean water and sanitation) (see box).

Drinking water and sanitation around the world in figures

In 2020, 2 billion people still had to do without safely managed drinking water. Of these, 771 million people do not even have access to basic drinking water. Half of these people (387 million) live in sub-Saharan Africa. So, we are still a long way from achieving the target formulated by the sixth Sustainable Development Goal or SDG6: by 2030, everyone should have access to affordable and safe drinking water.

Still, there is some progress, but it is too slow. Between 2015 and 2020, the proportion of the world's population that is able to enjoy safely managed drinking water increased from 70.2% to 74.3%. We are seeing improvement in Central and South Asia in particular.

Access to safely managed sanitation services (toilets, etc.) is also on the increase, namely from 47.1% in 2015 to 54% in 2020. Yet 3.6 billion people still lack access to safely managed sanitation and 1.7 billion of these lack even the most basic sanitation. This meant that 494 million people were forced to attend to their needs outdoors ('open defecation') in 2020; that figure was 739 million in 2015.

With regard to open defecation, this means we are on course to meet SDG6, but to provide access to safely managed sanitation for all by 2030, the current rate of progress needs to be accelerated four times over. There is much work to be done and the Belgian Development Cooperation has understood that well.

It should be noted that SDG6 is closely interrelated to other SDGs. Those who lack access to reliable drinking water and sanitation as children are more likely to be sick (SDG3) and will consequently find it more difficult to attend school (SDG4). As a result, these people will have to make do with lower paid work (SDG1, SDG8 etc.) and so on. Clean water and sanitation facilities are becoming crucial, especially with increasing urbanisation (SDG11).