Access to water in Abéché, the second city of the Republic of Chad after the capital N’djaména and the third economically speaking city has become very expensive, in addition to its rarity. The rickshaw costs nearly 750 CFA francs. The people have repeatedly addressed grievances for the Government to help them, unanswered. The East of the country is not spared.
On the outskirts of the city, the villagers lack water. The breeders who live around the wells use them to water the herds, while the inter-communal conflicts are gangrating the area.
“I already have a client for this keg, I must hurry!”, hinted Ali Ahmat, 12, standing on the cart, gives a whip to his horse. The animal starts painfully, and takes the child and its barrel of 200 liters of water just filled.
Ali is a peddler of water: it is these informal but indispensable links for access to blue gold in Chad. In the province of Ouaddaï, the lack of drilling and the almost existence of a sanitation system make the water difficult to find.
At the level of the SNE which desperately works to serve good quality drinking water to the citizens, the services are unable to accomplish their mission. In some quarters of the city of Abéché, the faucet has never sunk for years. The locals are just buying water from the shoot-shoots.
“After the rainy season, water is becoming scarce,” says Mahamat Adoum Doutoum, Chief of the Township of Guerri, a traditional head of an area that has two boreholes only for 86,000 inhabitants. “Then the inhabitants will fetch the water from the Ouadi.”
The wadis (rivers, in Arabic) are these rivers inpassable in rainy season as the current is strong, but dry and arid the rest of the year. As soon as the rain water stops, people dig a well and install a pump.
This is where Ali Ahmat and the dozens of hawkers come to fill their barrels before reselling their contents to the people.
Each filling costs 100 FCFA (0.15 euro) to Ali, which he sells five times more expensive in the city. “We do between seven and eight roundtrips a day, about,” he says.
At the end of the day this Sunday, the burning sun disappeared and the cart of Ali is already several dozen meters from the pump, en route to Hadjer Hadid, the city of Ouaddaï which houses a refugee camp in Darfur.
Pascal is also a frequent return trip between the city and the dry bed of the Ouadi. This other peddler, a Sudanese father of five, is in his fifties.
A refugee in Chad for fifteen years, he “suffered” by buying his own Donkey two years ago. But thanks to this investment, he delivers water to the city every day, and can bring a nest to the home.
Shoot-shoots are desperate. They explain that the State never helped them. “The officers of the municipal police make every time the turn to take the taxes of 6000 CFA francs”. These men work hard and have their families waiting for them at home to put something under their teeth. But “to drink water, you also have to add bleach” to purify it, he explains.
Because if it is as rare as it is indispensable, the water of the wadis is not drinkable: the traditional wells are in the ground, and the water that comes out often has the color of the soil.
“Water can be contaminated at several levels, either at the source, unprotected or during transport using unsuitable containers, dirty or without lids, either during storage and distribution,” explains Fabienne Mially, head of Mission of the French NGO first emergency internationale in Chad.
The NGO supports 11 health centres in the Department, where awareness sessions on the importance of drinking water are regularly organized.
In Borota, a village several hours away from Hadjer Hadid, the head of the local health centre is disillusioned: there are six fountains in the village, but none of them work.
“They have been built by NGOs in the past,” says Koditog Bokassa, who said that the Ouadi is de facto the only way for the villagers to find water.
So he distributes bottles of bleach.
But Mr. Bokassa is unable to satisfy everyone, the French NGO being the only one supplying bleach to the Center. The State gave it, but it was more than a year ago that it was no longer the case, according to Mr Bokassa.
Then, it is not uncommon to cross on the outskirts of the Ouadi of young people drink directly to the bottle extracted from the well.
-“Alarming” situation –
The latest national survey in 2018 recalled that “the source of water is strongly associated with the chronic malnutrition” of children in Chad, where the situation is “alarming” with an overall acute malnutrition rate of 13.5%.
“A solution to the lack of drinking water could be to create containment basins to collect water from the rainy season,” says Guerri township chief, regreting that the granite basement of his Township complicates drilling.
Basins have been built by humanitarian partners in the province. In Hadjer Hadid, two water towers are also visible in the urban landscape.
“But the basins are not enough, and the two water towers have broken down for several years already,” says Hassan, a resident of the city.
This trader has invested in two barrels of 200 liters, which he leaves in the courtyard of his house. “It’s barely enough for the kids, but it’s already good.”
Pascal does not have the means to have a keg. For the seven souls in his home, seven cans of 20 litres are stored in his home: “I carry water all day, but I have the same problem as everyone!”.