Drought-stricken island is running out of drinking water

(CNN) — When Racha Mousdikoudine turns on the kitchen tap, she never knows what to expect.

“You may not get water at all,” he told CNN. “Maybe it takes 30 minutes for the water to arrive. Maybe it takes a few hours to wait for the water to arrive.”

For the past four months, Mudykudin and her two children have had little running water at their home in the French territory of Mayotte, an island of about 310,000 people in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Population, located between Mozambique and Mayotte. . From Madagascar.

Mayotte is facing an unprecedented water crisis, one of the worst droughts in the country’s history, and the effects of the man-made climate crisis colliding with chronic underinvestment in the water system.

The island is facing its worst drought since 1997. Two of its reservoirs have reached “severe levels of decline”: according to the latest estimates, one has reached 7% of capacity and the other has reached 6% of capacity and is close to depletion.

This resulted in severe water outages. According to schedules issued by local authorities of the French government, residents will only have access to water for about 18 hours every other day. Many people say the little water they have is often contaminated and undrinkable.

Residents have had to deal with school closures and a growing health crisis, while water bottles have become a scarce and expensive commodity on supermarket shelves.

In a country like France, this is “unthinkable”

Although it is 8,000 kilometers away from mainland France, according to French law, Mayotte is as French as the suburbs of Paris.

The island was colonized by France in 1841 and was officially recognized as a French department in 2011, meaning it has the same legal status as the 96 departments in mainland France.

The French government responded to the crisis. In September, the government delivered 600,000 liters of bottled water to the island’s most vulnerable residents and deployed soldiers and public officials to help distribute the water. The government also suspended water bills for all residents.

But many Mahorai, a term used to refer to the inhabitants of Mayotte, still feel abandoned.

Douainda Attoumani, 27, is terrified of the future. He lives in a house with 10 people, including his parents, sister, four brothers and two cousins. He told CNN that each day was more difficult than the day before.

“The authorities seem to turn a blind eye to the suffering we suffer every day,” he said. He added: “What on earth are we going to do when we don’t have water? “We are dying of thirst. “

On September 20, 2023, a ship carrying 600,000 liters of bottled water arrived in Mayotte, France, and soldiers unloaded bags of water to distribute to the most vulnerable people in the sector.

Many, like Mudhikudin, are outraged.

“I’m a French woman but I don’t have autonomy because I don’t have water,” she said. “I had to choose between getting water for my family and going to work. Having to make such a decision is unimaginable in a country like France.”

The simple act of bathing or pouring water for their 7- and 9-year-old daughters became such a challenge that she and her husband decided to send the girls to live with their grandmother on the French island of Reunion for about two years. One hour flight from Mayotte.

Mudhikudin said the decision was extremely difficult, but he felt he had no choice.

“Things have reached a point where I can no longer keep the children safe. Prepare enough food for them, pay attention to their hygiene, such as going to the toilet, bathing, etc.”

“Things can get out of control at any time.”

Not only is water scarce in Mayotte, but what is available is often polluted.

Online, residents used the hashtag #MayotteASoif (Mayotte is thirsty) to share videos of sludge-filled brown liquid pouring from taps. Some, including Mudhikudin, took to the streets to protest.

The Mayotte Regional Health Authority (ARS) has discovered several cases of water contamination. ARS director general Olivier Brahic told CNN that in mid-October, the number of cases of “non-compliant” water was about 3%.

However, many residents believe water quality issues are a larger issue.

Estelle Youssouffa, a member of the French National Assembly for Mayotte, told CNN that the authorities were able to say the water was drinkable because they only interrupted the flow for a few hours. Tested later.

ARS confirmed to CNN that the test was conducted after 12 hours of operation following a water outage.

Mudhikudin and Atumani said that after the power outage, the water only started to clean after running for a few hours. But most residents cannot give up water during rationing.

On October 15, 2023, a dry reservoir in Dzoumogne, French island of Mayotte, in the Indian Ocean.

Women fill buckets with water in M’tsamoudou district, near Banderelei, Mayotte, Thursday, October 12, 2023.

As the water crisis continues, health risks also increase. Dr. Soumes Abbas, chairman of the Mayotte Hospital Medical Committee, said the island is experiencing an epidemic of acute gastroenteritis.

Abbas said epidemics of gastroenteritis are not uncommon during the summer, but continue into the fall. “Our cases are also getting worse,” he added. “Some cases are more difficult and more complex, and many end up in intensive care.”

He also explained that the causes of the epidemic include both contaminated water sources and poor hygiene standards due to reduced access to water, affecting their ability to wash their hands, shower, flush toilets and clean their homes.

“We’re always worried about the possibility of an outbreak of these waterborne diseases,” Abbas said. “Things could get out of control at any time and we don’t have enough personnel to handle it.”

Understaffing at Mayotte hospitals is just one of many infrastructure problems facing the French department.

Mayotte’s population has almost doubled since 2007, but infrastructure improvements have not kept pace, Youssouffa said.

The area doesn’t produce enough water even outside of drought periods, and the island had frequent water outages long before this year’s unusually low rainfall, according to the county.

The increasing demands of a growing population, combined with the effects of climate change, are causing droughts to become more frequent and severe, putting huge pressure on the island’s water resources.

“Rainfall has been decreasing over the years,” Yusufah said. “We’re already seeing changes in cyclone tracks and rainfall tracks in the region…that’s a direct impact of climate change.”

Negotiations have been ongoing for years to build a third reservoir and a second desalination plant to increase Mayotte’s drinking water production capacity. But none of those projects have started yet, according to the county.

Mayotte has secured funding to help tackle its dire water situation. In 2014, the European Commission allocated €22 million ($24 million) to Mayotte for water supply as part of a wider financing package.

But in 2021, payments across the entire fund were suspended and resumed this year after an audit found “serious irregularities and deficiencies” in the management of the funds. The county told CNN that so far, less than half of the funding has been allocated for water.

“This is not normal life”

On November 7, 2023, a man was filling a bucket with water in Dzaoudzi, French island of Mayotte, in the Indian Ocean.

The Mahorai people continue to struggle with the financial impact of the dire water crisis.

In July, the French government implemented a price freeze on bottled water, but a six-pack of 1.5-liter bottled water still costs as much as 12 euros ($13), CNN affiliate BFMTV reported. This puts it out of reach for most people on the island. First, if you have bottled water.

Aid worker Elsa Leduc, who moved to Mayotte from Paris in September, said finding bottled water has become a daily task. “Every time I go to the supermarket there is no water,” he said. “I have to go to smaller stores that are more expensive.”

Leduc is lucky to be able to afford the high prices, but most people on the island cannot. According to INSEE, 77% of Mayotte residents live below the national poverty line, five times the rate in the rest of France.

“The problem with the water crisis is that it makes Mayotte uninhabitable,” Yusofa said. “This crisis is so severe that public services are disrupted. It disrupts schooling. It disrupts business. “This is not normal life. “

Mudhikudin and Atumani, like many Mahorai people, wonder why the authorities were not prepared for this.

“We have had small (water supply) disruptions since 2018 and we can see there is no rain, so they should expect that and find a solution,” Atumani said.

“The whole system is falling apart before our eyes because it’s shutting down,” Yusofa said. “Without water, you can’t function.”

All hopes are pinned on the rainy season starting in December. But Mudikuddin worries that’s not enough. “I knew things were going to get worse.”

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