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Urban-rural water allocations in semi-arid lands – the case of Burkina Faso

Submitted by Julia Barrott 13th November 2015 15:30
ziniare oubritenga province burkina faso 0 - climate adaptation.

Women with children collects water from the Ziga lake, for building © Peter Newborne/ODI 


Decisions on water allocation and infrastructure lie at the heart of development planning in semi-arid lands.

On paper, the laws and policies of Burkina Faso accord equal entitlement to drinking water for the residents of cities and the residents of small towns and villages. In practice, Ouagadougou’s status as economic and administrative capital gives it much greater power to plan for and mobilise investment for its own water supplies. The Ziga project (in two phases) has been designed to secure bulk water supply for Ouagadougou until 2030.

For local people in the Ziga area on the White Volta/Nakambé River, the project has brought some positive benefits and some negative impacts. Thriving rural communities need water for productive use, yet the government bans villages around the Ziga reservoir (upstream of the Ziga dam) from irrigating from the lake (to protect water quality from the use of polluting chemicals) and they are not receiving support to create alternative revenue-generating activities. ‘Development’, said a local leader, ‘is based on social peace. As long as we do not receive assistance in recognition of the consequences of the dam, there is a problem that needs to be resolved.’

The national development strategy identifies both urban and rural areas as priorities in the promotion of economic growth, without expressly favouring either. The livelihoods of the great majority of Burkinabé are based on agriculture, although the rural economy is particularly vulnerable to climatic shocks (variability in rainfall). Urban planners, meanwhile, are looking to secure water supplies and maintain water and other basic services in the city to support the urban economy.

The reach of Ouagadougou’s water infrastructure is long, already 50 km to the Ziga dam – with ambitions to extend it further – around 220 km to the Bagré dam. The size of the Ziga reservoir means it is expected to have unused water capacity, in the short and medium term, even after the construction, soon, of Ziga Phase 2 – a second water main to Ouagadougou.

The population of Ouagadougou is, however, growing at a fast rate, and this is forecast to continue, with an expected doubling of the population by 2030 and then, potentially, another doubling by 2050. Currently, the Bagré dam provides water for hydropower and irrigation - not urban water supply. It cannot be assumed that Bagré would be able to serve Ouagadougou with both hydroelectric power and water supply in sufficient quantity at the same times because of different levels in the filling of the Bagré reservoir, year by year and season by season, owing to variability in rainfall. In dry periods, extraction from the Bagré reservoir for drinking water would reduce the amount of water available for much-needed hydropower generation. There seem, in other words, to be major competing water demands in prospect, involving choices between different priorities.

In the long term, therefore, without review of the urban–rural water balance in the national economy and society to anticipate the potential trade-offs and analyse options by way of response, the ‘train’ of the capital’s urban growth risks running into the ‘buffers’ of pressure on water resources in the context of climate variability, including shorter and more unpredictable rainy seasons. As to the nature of those options, they could comprise, for example, policy measures and  economic incentives to promote more irrigation opportunities in rural areas and/or to divert migration towards other cities in Burkina such as Bobo-Dioulasso, the second city, which is better served with water sources, located as it is near the river Mouhoun (Ouagadougou is an unusual capital in not being located by a river).

This preliminary report (downloads in English and French available from the right-hand column and under further resources below) provides a comprehensive overview of the issue of water allocation in Burkina Faso, specifically how/where the capital of Burkina, Ouagadougou, sources its water, as an example of the ‘urban-rural water interface’. The report calls for a balancing of water for cities and water for the country, based on assessment of infrastructure investment options benefiting both, and invites government representatives and other key actors to meet to discuss the urban-rural balance.

Further Resources