Accessing drinking water ‘a battle’ in French overseas territory Mayotte | EUROtoday

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In response to probably the most extreme drought Mayotte has skilled in many years, the French authorities and native authorities in the overseas territory are taking drastic measures to make sure inhabitants get fundamental entry to water. The unprecedented scarcity is pushing locals into desperation and mounting tensions at a time when Mayotte can be seeing rampant crime.

Getting entry to faucet water in Mayotte, a French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean northwest of Madagascar, has change into an uphill battle. Since September 4, residents have solely had entry to the archipelago’s water provide for 2 days out of three on common.

Mayotte is dealing with the worst drought it has seen because the late Nineties. To cope, native authorities have taken measures over the previous six months to protect what little water is left.

The newest water cuts, various in depth from city to city, have been probably the most drastic up to now.

“It all depends on where you live and which water system you’re dependent on,” says Andrea, who has lived in Mayotte for a 12 months. “On good days, we have a little bit of water every day. On bad days, we don’t have any running water … and if it comes out of the tap, it’s undrinkable. That’s the current situation, and things are only getting worse.”

By the top of the wet season in April, Mayotte’s main reservoirs have been lower than half full. Around the identical time final 12 months, they have been stuffed to round 98 p.c. Since then, the seasonal showers that sometimes replenish the island’s water reservoirs in the course of the dry interval from May by November have been meagre.

“No other department in mainland France would accept even a fraction of what people in Mayotte are going through,” stated former secretary of state for overseas territories Yves Jégo, who described the scenario in the archipelago as “inexcusable and inconceivable”.

But Mayotte resident Andrea considers himself “privileged”, since he is ready to entry water at dwelling. He lives in an space the place water cuts happen 5 occasions every week, from 4pm to 8am, with an extra 36-hour minimize on the weekend. Others who stay 5 minutes away from him “haven’t had water for a fortnight”, he says. “They have to go and get it from neighbours, who have set up water tanks.”

Damien* agrees. “Since I moved to Mayotte, I’ve always experienced water cuts on a smaller scale and restrictions from time to time,” he explains. Damien has been residing in Mayotte for 3 years. This time round, the scenario is extra tense than he has skilled in the previous. “There is not enough water on the island. For myself and my family, I always keep 60 litres of water stored in the bathroom to go to the toilet, to shower and to drink.”

The faucet water ‘started giving us stomach aches’

“Even when there is water on tap, it’s not drinkable,” Estelle Youssouffa, an MP for Mayotte’s first constituency, told French radio RFI on September 13. “It’s brown and unfit for consumption.”

Mayotte’s regional health agency, on the other hand, has assured the public that “the water is drinkable and could be consumed with out being systematically boiled”, all of the whereas advising residents of the archipelago to boil water used for drinking, cooking or brushing tooth for as much as 12 hours after a day-long water minimize.

Poor water high quality has already had an impact on the well being of locals. “Many people” have complained of abdomen aches and the gross sales of anti-diarrhea medicines in Mayotte have gone up in current weeks, in line with French overseas information website Outre-mer La 1ère.

Read extraFor survivors of gender-based violence in French overseas territories, ‘silence prevails’

“Before, I would filter the tap water and it was fine,” Damien explains. “But we stopped drinking it two months ago because it started giving us stomach aches.” He selected to take precautionary measures for concern the water may injury the well being of himself and his household. “I have two young children, I don’t want to take any risks [with their health],” he says.

Now, Damien and his household solely drink bottled water. He says that he has “never stocked so many bottles of water” in his life as he has in current weeks. And he considers himself “lucky” to find the money for to take action. A six-litre packet of water bottles in Mayotte prices between €4 and €5, however can attain as much as €12, regardless of an order given by authorities on July 18 prohibiting outlets from climbing their bottled water costs.

In mainland France, a six-litre packet of bottles prices round €2.

Mayotte is the poorest division in France and its overseas territories. In 2018, 42 p.c of the inhabitants lived on lower than €160 monthly.

“It’s a battle to have access to drinking water,” Andrea explains. “Packets of water bottles in shops are overpriced, rare and taken by storm as soon as they are delivered. It leads shopkeepers to almost criminally hike up the prices. They are taking advantage of the fact that people are being forced to buy bottled water.”

A catastrophic however predictable disaster

Water shortages in Mayotte have precipitated outrage. Besides the onslaught of indignant posts discovered on social media, locals protested exterior the Mayotte water administration headquarters on September 9, holding up banners that learn: “Mayotte is thirsty!” and “What do we want? Drinking water!”

Protesters expressed frustration at the truth that “nothing has been done” in current years to unravel the water disaster, which has roots that run deep, in line with Fahad Idaroussi Tsimanda, affiliate researcher at Montpellier’s geography and growth lab Lagam. “The current situation is catastrophic, but we saw it coming. Mayotte’s water crisis dates back to 1997, we just let the problem linger on,” he says.

According to Tsimanda, the roots of Mayotte’s water disaster are twofold: an insufficient water remedy infrastructure on one hand, and a shortage of rainfall attributable to local weather change on the opposite.

“Between 2010 and 2020, there was less rainfall reported in Mayotte, despite being previously abundant during the rainy season. Now rivers have dried up, and locals have to wait until January for it to rain – something that used to happen in October,” Tsimanda factors out.

The water provide in Mayotte is essentially sourced from two hill reservoirs, one positioned in the centre of its important island and one other in the north. But unprecedented droughts meant that, by August 24, the 2 reservoirs solely stuffed as much as 25 and 14 p.c of their full capability, in comparison with 106 and 82 p.c in August 2022. A third hill reservoir was meant to change into operational in the 2000s, however the undertaking remains to be beneath method right this moment.

What’s extra, the federal government in 2022 admitted that a water desalination facility on the island “is not producing the quantity of water that was expected” (2,000 cubic metres per day as an alternative of the anticipated 5,300). But authorities hope to revive the plant to its full capability by the top of this 12 months. Another remedy plant is attributable to open in August 2024, with the intention of manufacturing a minimum of 10,000 cubic metres per day.

“It is also important to bear in mind that the water system in Mayotte has been leaking for several years now,” Tsimanda provides. Water administration is a controversial matter on the archipelago and was criticised by a regional audit chamber in a 2020 report. The public prosecutor’s workplace even carried out an investigation into Mayotte’s water union, charging it with “favouritism”, “misappropriation of public funds” and “corruption”.

Finally, the dearth of water for Mayotte’s inhabitants may be attributable to the truth that its inhabitants has been rising steadily for a decade. The inhabitants grew from 224,000 in 2014 to 310,000 in 2022, in line with an estimate by the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Research (INSEE).

Less water, ‘more tensions’

To deal with the water disaster, the French authorities is sending a army cargo ship to ship 600,000 litres of drinking water to the overseas territory. Set to reach on September 20, the ship will depart from the Réunion Island, one other French territory in the Indian Ocean positioned east of Madagascar.

Troops with the French Foreign Legion and the French navy will work with native authorities to make sure water provides attain the “most vulnerable sectors of the population”, the ministry for the inside and overseas introduced on September 16.

“The state is responding to an emergency situation. Now we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” says Andrea. He doesn’t see the water disaster in Mayotte ending anytime quickly. “For now, the best thing is to continue with emergency measures.” He would additionally like the worth of water bottle packets to be “regulated” till rainfall returns in November, which he hopes might be “abundant”.

Damien, nevertheless, is afraid he could must take his spouse and kids to security if the scenario doesn’t enhance in the approaching weeks. “We already have security issues in Mayotte (crime cases have become more frequent in recent months – Ed.), and the water crisis could create even more tensions. I want my family to stay away from all that, if it happens,” he says. He admits that “it’s complicated to live without the basic necessity of water right now”.

“But I don’t expect anything from the government. When it comes to water management, they have fallen short here in Mayotte. We have no choice but to wait and see how things develop,” Damien concludes. That, and hope for rain come November.

*Name has been modified to guard confidentiality

This article was translated from the authentic in French.