Groundwater brings smiles to communities in Burundi

Groundwater brings smiles to communities in Burundi

By Avit Ndayiziga and Maheburwa Gaspard

In Burundi, just like elsewhere in the countries that share the Kagera River Basin (Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda), water remains a limited and vulnerable resource. According to UNICEF, Burundi’s national drinking water coverage rate stands at “82.8%, of which 80.9% is in rural areas and 98.1% in urban areas.”

Experts attribute this to various factors, including the often unfavorable and changing climatic conditions. This has resulted in the drying up of some water sources that were once a lifeline for communities. 

In Burundi, at least 5000 surface water sources, mostly boreholes and shallow wells have completely dried up in the last 20 years. Several other surface sources, not yet documented, are gradually drying up and could soon disappear too.  

Appolinaire Sindahebura, the General Director of the Agence Burundaise de l’Hydraulique et de l’Assainissement en Milieu Rural (AHAMR), translated as Burundian Agency for Hydraulics and Sanitation in Rural Areas.
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A community lines up their jerricans to fetch water from one of the available boreholes.

But as surface water sources dry up, there are hopes that massive reserves of water underground could provide people with adequate safe water for drinking and hygiene needs if exploited. 

Groundwater, a solution to water shortage

According to the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), groundwater holds the promise of closing the gap between water supply and demand and buffering the effects of climate variability. 

Sindahebura notes that “groundwater is generally available in the entire Burundi but at different depth levels.” Most of the country falls under the shared 5,800 Km2 Kagera aquifer.

The government of Burundi established the AHAMR project in 2015, to cope with the glaring shortage of clean water in many parts of the country.

The project drills groundwater and supplies it to communities through water pipes. It has established various water supply points across rural Kirundo province, especially in all zones of the Bugabira commune. This was one of the most water-stressed areas in the country, with only 15% of the population having access to safe water before the project.

A significant number of people in this commune have access to safe water, according to Sindayihebura. The project targets to have all communes in the country having access to clean water within an estimated distance of 500 meters from each household, by 2025.

Community members share their experience…

We used to trek for more than two hours to fetch water from unclean sources, but this is now no more. It has eased our domestic chores like cooking and laundry.

Renate Manirakiza, a resident of Nyamabuye village,

Charles Mbindi, a beneficiary of the AHAMR project in Muyinga province in the Gasorwe zone, says they are now finding life easier than in the pre-project days. “Access to safe water enables us live a good life,” he observes. He is particularly delighted that since the arrival of the taps, their children dress in clean clothes and no longer suffer from intestinal worms. “Having this tap in our village is a great advantage to our families. We are doing all it takes to protect it,” notes Mbidi. 

According to the Buye Zone Representative Joseph Rugonumugabo, all households in his village have access to safe water. “The water is sufficient in our locality,” he says.

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Residents of Muyinga Province Gasorwe Zone fetching water from the communtiy tap

Consolidating the gains 

The Kagera shared aquifer is one of the three transboundary aquifers selected as a case study under the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) ‘s Groundwater Project – ‘Enhancing Conjunctive Management of Surface Water and Groundwater Resources in Selected Transboundary Aquifers: Case Study for selected Shared Groundwater Bodies in the Nile Basin. The others are Mt. Elgon and Gedaref-Adigrat aquifers, respectively.

The aim of the NBI project is to strengthen the knowledge base, capacity, and cross-border institutional mechanisms for sustainable use and management of the three selected transboundary aquifers. It will also aid the national achievements and reporting of water-related Sustainable Development Goals; and will be supportive to environmental protection whilst enhancing socio-economic development of the Basin’s population. 

The five-year (2020 – 2025) project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), implemented by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and executed by NBI.

This article was supported by InfoNile with funding from Nile Basin Initiative.

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