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Burundi: Bujumbura, the water walking dead city

Some of the residents in the zones have not received water through their taps for months, and resort to buying from vendors at exorbitant prices up to BIF 1,000 for 20liters PhotoFile

Municipalities in Bujumbura are facing water scarcity crisis as taps shrivel at sevens and sixes while the country is boasted to have big reservoirs of water. Paradox.

The economical capital Bujumbura, is facing an acute water shortage following a prolonged dry spell in summer days, it also occurs in rainy season. However, rivers, lakes marshlands, and mangroves crowd the country.

The country owns a share of the second largest lake in the world, it belongs to the Nile and Congo basin as it aliments both big continent rivers. It is according to experts a paradox that households can go days without a drop in their taps.

While some zones in Bujumbura have been facing water supply challenges, especially in Cibitoke and Gatunguru, where residents for years have had water rationed, the dry spell spilled oil into the fire.

It [water scarcity] spread to localities that never had the problem including Cibitoke, Musaga, Gatunguru, Uwinterekwa.

Some of the residents in the zones have not received water through their taps for months, and resort to buying from vendors at exorbitant prices up to BIF 1,000 for 20 liters.

Severine Sindayigaya, 51, runs a small restaurant in Cibitoke, southern Bujumbura city. She has 10 water containers to help doing her business. Both morning and evening, she uses 20 jerricans as a jerrican of 20 liters costs up to BIF 200. As she has to fetch water from a far- flung area, Buterere, which is situated about 3 miles away from her home, she hails bicycle riders to fetch water for her.

“The last time I received water through my tap was 3 months ago,” Severine met, a resident of Cibitoke on the north of Bujumbura said on Sunday.

“I have been buying water from vendors for domestic use and it is really expensive,” she said.

Severine spends up to BIF 10000 ($3) per a day for water containers including transport fees.

“Some areas located on the lower part get water but not us. I buy 20 liters of water at BIF  200, which is expensive considering that I have a family of four and run my restaurant where water is priority,” she said.

Bruce Akimana, a resident of Gatunguru, shared the same predicament, noting that his family is spending huge sums of money on water and has to fetch water from sources which is not supplied by the Regideso Company. PhotoFile

Bruce Akimana, a resident of Gatunguru, shared the same predicament, noting that his family is spending huge sums of money on water and has to fetch water from sources which is not supplied by the Regideso Company.

‘’Much of water fetched from sources is sometimes impure. We don’t use it for drinking but only for washing clothes, household activities, etc.’’ he told me.

“If we want clean water for drinking, it’s really difficult for us to afford it. We buy it from a shop where a cup of water costs up to BIF 200 or we buy natural mineral water produced by Kinju Company where a small bottle costs up to BIF 1000 and a big one is BIF 2000”.

“Or, you have to buy at a high price from vendors who are doing a booming business yet you are not even assured of the quality and the source,” a resident added.

Musaga , Cibitoke and Uwinterekwa zones, the regions where residents never had water shortage before, are currently gripped in a major water crisis, with residents going for weeks without the crucial commodity.

The residents of both areas say that when water is supplied through the domestic taps during nighty hours and they stay up fetching as water trickles.

Gatunguru, a new built- modern city, residents say that they have not received the tapped water supplied by Regideso Company almost a year.

The same matter at Uwinterekwa, taps have run dry for the last two weeks.

A man met heading to a public source of water locally known “Kw’itangi” at Gatunguru-Karama, said that they receive water once for two weeks, and it only comes for a few hours especially during nighty hours. For the rest of the weeks, they have to buy the commodity.

The tapped water supply in some parts of Bujumbura has been scarce and an acute issue for almost 4 months.

The Regideso, water and electricity state owned entity reported that water shortage in some Bujumbura’s zones is due to the urban expansion and yet they use the same old pipes of water.

“The facilities we have were built in the 1990’s to supply to less than 500,000 people, but today, thirty years later, the capacity grew up to 3, 000,000,” said Jean Albert Manigomba, General Director of REGIDESO.

Banzamihigo is among the few people in the quarter to have piped water supplied by REGIDESO water company installed at his home in Kamenge quarter and water is hardly ever a scarce while other’s taps have been run dry.

Women, men and children queue the whole day waiting for Godot. According to some of them they wake up early morning at around 4a.m. Sometimes, they go back in homes empty handed.

“On this baking sun, I wait for almost 5 hours. It happens that I leave my containers here for 2 days”, Jacquelline SIFA, who came to supply at Banzamihigo pipe.

In Cibitoke zone, water was not a huge issue for Sindayigaya before she has moved into that area in 2012. Water supply was available the whole day and everyone would appreciate the situation. But the dire situation got worsened when water started appearing during nighty hours.

“We haven’t had water problems before, but this time it is worse than ever,” Sindayigaya says. “Sometimes we wait almost the whole day to fetch water, but we have to wait anyway because we cannot go back without water.”

She lives with her neighbors in the same plot and all have to wake up in midnight to fetch water if it’s available.

Cibitoke like other zones, water is sometimes available from midnight and gets dried at 6 am o’clock.

With the slow flow of water, it takes 15 minutes to fill one 20-liter (5-gallon) container. Sindayigaya has 20 jerricans and has to wait at least four hours before she can fetch, since four neighbors are ahead of her, each with four containers to fill.

“Every week we only hardly ever get water twice, once or not”, Sindayigaya says. “Sometimes there is water only one day a week.”

Residents say things have become hard for their families since they spend hours at the water point, time which they could have been working. A lot of them [ residents] depend on contractual day labor for income.

Moreover, they say, some water vendors take advantage of the situation and charge more. “We normally buy a 20-liter container of water at BIF 200 but sometimes we have to pay double that with transport fees which is up to BIF 500 for a jerrican excluding sums of money charged by tap-owners,” said Amina Nishimwe, a resident of CIbitoke.

Even though water has been a scarce in Gatunguru like other zones, this drastic situation occurs during summer days.

Regideso Company Ltd, reported that the main reason of water cut is to at least supply everyone by shifts.

“For example, in business areas they manage to supply them with water. The case of township and nearby localities. During the day they have access to water”, said one of the experts of AMAZI WATER company.

It has worker, he added, as water is not available at night. At the time, some residential localities are supplied between 9 p.m to 5 a.m.

For Kibenga however, at least they have water between 10am to 6p.m each day, he said.

Regideso has so far always informed its clients following the technical issues. Some zones which are currently copping water scarcity are among which had been warned.

What is the most frustrating and awkward is that the situation has become routine while other zones bordering to those targeted zones are supplied at satisfactory level.

When water is scarce in unaffected zones, it does not take a long time to be back. It probably takes a few hours or one day while in Cibitoke, Uwinterekwa and Musaga it can take about 2 weeks.

The residents living in those battered- regions cry to foul calling for the government to find a solution over the problem. PhotoFile

Insufficient hygienic latrines

On Tuesday, Aug8,2023 during a workshop in Gitega Province which saw the participation of the stakeholders responsible for water sanitary and basic sanitation for good governance, the General Director in charge of water sanitation, indicated that 39% of Burundian households use upgraded toilets and 10% use shared toilets.

“47% of households use unimproved toilets while 3% do not have a toilet and defecate in the open places”, he said.

In schools, Girukwishaka said that the situation remains stinging and alarming.

About 78.56% of school have unsanitary latrines. Only 21.44% of school have hygienic latrines and while 6% of Burundians have access to hand washing with soap.

As a solution over these problems, Girukwishatse suggested that there should often be chlorination or disinfection of hydraulic structures as well as raising public awareness of the various means of preserving drinking water at home.

The water stemming from sources are hugely used for household activities.

The residents living in those battered- regions cry to foul calling for the government to find a solution over the problem.

In the countryside for example in Gitega (Central of Burundi), the region has been experiencing a widespread shortage of drinking water. According to him, there is a 42% shortfall in the daily production of drinking water in the town. 

He added that the production stands at 5,800m³ for a population of around 200,000. He pointed out that the daily quota is 29 liters per capita per day, instead of the 50 liters stipulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

According to top officials who share the same concerns with experts, there is still little drinking water coverage, despite the government’s efforts to improve access to drinking water for everyone.

For Faustin Ndikumana, an independent and economic expert, to tackle this problem, particular attention needs to be paid to coordinating stakeholders and investments.

The public drinking water service is threatened, said Faustin, by a number of challenges such as galloping population growth, dilapidated infrastructure, and enormous investment costs.

“Also unbalanced budget allocation to the detriment of the drinking water and sanitation service, and climate change affecting the various sources of drinking water production,” he concluded.

Moïse Ndayiragije
Moise Ndayiragije, journalist, Visual presenter, Environmental Advocate. He has been covering social ground based stories. He stretches from climate change to Biodiversity loss and social linkages. He covers news about Burundi, Great Lakes, and Africa.


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