Timbuktu’s fight against COVID-19 : using access to water, an essential commodity
The transformation of the borehole equipped with a hand pump into a self-sufficient water station was one of the key measures of the emergency response against COVID-19 in Timbuktu.
Market women come to fill their basins, neighbours to fetch water for their tea, children frolic as they rehydrate themselves... Thanks to UNICEF and its partners, a solar-operated water reservoir, a water distribution ramp with four taps and four hand-washing stations were built, providing the market with drinking water seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
This change is very much appreciated by the residents of the neighbourhood and the traders like Bintou Youssouf, a friendly chicken seller: "I live a distance of 3 kilometres from the market and I come here very early every morning with my chickens. These water points have made a lot of things easier for us, we wet the ground to prevent the dust that was making life difficult for us, but I can also refresh myself and the chickens."
Between April and July 2020, the COVID outbreak infected more than 544 people and caused 16 deaths in the Timbuktu region, representing 22% of COVID-19 cases in Mali at the time. In response to the emergency, UNICEF and its partners launched “Operation Coup de Poing against COVID-19”: a coordinated multi-sectoral response to stop the spread of the disease. UNICEF sourced from its Thematic Emergency Funds to organize awareness and prevention campaigns, provide tents and oxygen extractors to the hospital as well as provide support needed to put better hygiene in place around the localities.
"The fight against COVID-19 requires hygiene, and that starts with water," says Salia Diallo, UNICEF Timbuktu's Wash Specialist. "It was necessary to provide water for hand washing, but also to help reduce contact between people outside the home. Before this water reservoir was built, traders and buyers in the market would go to local people to ask for water, and this could easily contribute to the spread of the disease," he adds.
Thanks to the new facilities, Sidi Mohamed Dicko was able to close the tap he has in front of his shop to the general public: "There were many people who came empty handed, asking for water and I wanted to help but, since there are these new water point, I have locked my tap. It's a great relief and it's very useful because a lot of people spend a lot of time here in the centre of town."
His opinion is shared by Ousmane Gadeye Toure, president of the market's management committee: "We have at least 300 traders gathering here at this big Timbuktu market, so you have to imagine the daily water needs. A butcher, for example, has to wash his meat, wash his hands, and until now, everyone was looking for water from the homes of the local residents!"
With COVID-19, the situation has become critical. "Conventional hand-washing devices have to be filled with water manually and their capacity is usually 100 litres, whereas the containers installed at the market can contain 1,000 litres of water," Salia Diallo says proudly.
Badou Hamdedeou, the secretary of the market's management committee also appreciates the intervention: "We have benefited from soap, masks, there have been town criers here at the market because at one point the epidemic was very widespread in Timbuktu. We even had higher numbers of cases than Mopti or Ségou, it was crazy! We know of traders who had COVID-19 and lost their money. "
Sitting with a basin of water at their feet, Bintou Youssouf and her colleague Fati repeat how happy they are to be free to drink as much as they wish: "In Mali they say that when you give water to someone you have the baraka (meaning good luck in arabic), so it is a source of pride for the entire neighbourhood that we can now provide water to everyone! Even street children from other localities come here to get water, it helps both the young and the old. "
The evidence of the success of the operation "Coup de poing against COVID-19" is that since July 2020 only 46 new cases have been recorded in the Timbuktu region.
"This new solar-driven water reservoir contributes to strengthen the population’s resilience because it saves a lot of time and energy: people don't have to queue up for a long time to pump water one by one… You open one of these taps and the water flows!” says Amah Klutse, head of UNICEF Mali's WASH Section.
"It's also a solution for dry areas because we can drill deeper with this technology than the systems that use hand pumps. " BMZ funds are making it possible to scale up this prototype installation, launched in Timbuktu in response to COVID-19 as part of the “Building Resilience in Mali” project. A total of 44 solar operated water stations will be built in 2021 across the northern and central regions (Gao, Timbuktu and Mopti) to improve people's access to water.