Mali: Water and electricity still in short supply in northern cities

Water and electricity still in short supply in northern cities in Mali14 May 2013, Sweetcrude/African Press Organization, APO, GENEVA, Switzerland — In northern Mali, which has been experiencing armed conflict for nearly 16 months, hard-hit communities need better access to water. Since April 2012 the ICRC has been providing fuel to produce the electricity required to distribute much of the drinking water in three major cities

To date, the ICRC has provided more than 1.5 million litres of fuel to keep power stations running in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. It has also helped with the maintenance of infrastructure, while most spare parts and products used in maintenance have been provided by Mali’s national energy company.

“The supply of water and electricity remains critical in the north of Mali. In Kidal, only one of seven generators is still functioning. In Gao, three of seven generators, and in Timbuktu two of four are in working order,” said Abdoule-Karim Diomande, in charge of the ICRC’s water and habitat programme in the country. “In these circumstances, there cannot possibly be a constant supply of water and electricity available in those cities. It is urgent that the public utilities that normally provide these services resume their activities.”

After the outbreak of crisis in the north of the country in 2012 and the subsequent departure of civil servants, some of the personnel who had been keeping the electrical power and hydraulic facilities in proper working order found themselves unable to perform their tasks. As a result, people had no electricity or clean drinking water for weeks.

The ICRC then took action by continuously supplying the power stations with fuel. As a result, the supply of clean drinking water was restored and public health problems that might have arisen were averted. In addition, the availability of electricity for a few hours each day, besides benefiting everyone, enabled small businesses to continue to operate and thereby help a weakened economy to survive.

With ICRC support, civil society organizations in Timbuktu and Gao introduced a system of partial cost recovery enabling the population to contribute to the operating expenses of the generators. The contributions, although largely symbolic, highlighted the public’s determination not to simply rely on outside support. The funds collected were used to buy fuel whenever ICRC deliveries did not arrive on time, for security or other reasons.

Special arrangements were made to ensure that Gao Regional Hospital would be able to function independently of the outside power network. Owing to a recently installed ICRC generator and a daily 100-litre fuel delivery, the hospital can continue operating around the clock and provide the care that people need.

“If the last generators still up and running in those cities were to break down, people would find themselves without any drinking water or electricity – and facing all the consequences that that entails,” said Mr Diomande. “In all three cities, the situation requires that the generators be upgraded or replaced.”

With the gradual return of civil servants to the north of Mali, the ICRC has begun to have discussions with those concerned about measures that will enable public utilities to completely resume their activities. ICRC specialists are meeting regularly with the authorities and providing all the information needed for the transfer of responsibility to take place in the best possible conditions.

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