We are part of the solution
A public debate on water, sanitation and climate driven by youth from the Sahel region at the 9th World Water Forum
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“Water and sanitation are very critical in terms of our human development. We understand that every day, everybody use water for our domestic use or agricultural purposes. That shows that water is a critical and fundamental need that every human being must enjoy. Therefore, a forum like this where we would come to discuss issues or challenges that our people are facing in terms of water and sanitation is very important” declared Dawda Thiam, one of the Young Voices of the Sahel (YVS) who took part to the 9th World Water Forum (WWF) in Dakar, Senegal.
From March 21st to 26th, Senegal hosted the 9th World Water Forum which is the largest water related event in the world. For six days, presidents, ministers, members of parliament, Young Voices from the Sahel, international organizations, and the public and private sectors gathered in Diamniadio to discuss, advocate, and propose solutions to the “importance of water and some of the challenges that our communities are facing” added Dawda Thiam from the Gambia.
“One thing I have noticed during this forum is that water and sanitation problems are the same in west Africa and the Sahel region” affirms Nassyra from Niger. “In 2019 we experienced flooding and water shortage which caused quite a bit of damage. More than 132,000 people were affected, 16,000 people displaced and classroom have been destroyed. This situation impacted greatly on the health of young people, especially girls, women and children”.
“In Senegal, the mismanagement of water affects women and young people a lot,” Maguette Ba, Young Voices from the Sahel, Senegal, says. “In 2020, Senegal was hit by heavy rains. It was the weekend before my high school exams. I remember having a quite chill day but when I woke up the day after, my house was under water. We were walking under water, cooking under water, and even eating under water. There I was wondering: what if today was my exam day? What would I do, how would I go to school to take my exam?”.
While Maguette lost her house because of the flooding in the suburbs in Dakar, women in the Casamance region walk long distances to find water.
“As part of my research, I was in the islands of Casamance where many women travel more than 4 km daily and spend about 2h30 minutes in the road to collect water. And on their way back home, these women pay 300 francs for a 20L bottle of water” Bouly Sane, YVS from Senegal stated.
The problem of accessing water is also a gender problem. In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, children, women, and young girls are the most affected by water scarcity.
“In my country, women and children are those who bear the greatest burden related to the supply of drinking water where they devote 80% of their time. The academic performance of millions of children, especially girls, is thus negatively impacted. These water problems lead many children to stop their schooling partially or totally. Fetching water is time-consuming for children in terms of learning and for women to carry out income-generating activities” argued Seydou Ba from Guinea Conakry.
The problem of water is a cross-sectoral problem. “One of the other aspects that is really related to water for instance is agriculture. Agriculture is one of the main economic activities for so many other African countries. Without water, agriculture is so difficult,” said Pavert, a biogas practitioner and one of the YVS from Cameroun.
Young people are conscious of the challenges that their communities are facing on a daily basis to have access to water.
For Aissata, from Mali, “we young people are aware of everything that is happening around us. We are trained in different fields to be able to intervene in the water and sanitation problems in which our countries are confronted. So dear members of the government, help us to improve the situation of our countries, of our continent and of us young people.”
The Young Voices from the Sahel want actions to be taken, they want to see noticeable impact after the Forum.
“We young people have to stand up for what we want because we are the change, we are what are looking for. We cannot wait for governance or partners to do everything for us” suggested Edwige from Tchad.
Pavert also really “wishes that every youth can carry this mentality that they are able”. “Weshould not be talking about future as if it is so far, we are here now, we are the key, we are the solutions, everything is turning around us so we should be at the centre of everything”.
Marieme Soda Ndiaye, a member of the parliament in Senegal supports the advocacy of the YVS. For her, “Africa will be built by us young Africans. It is through our ingenuity, our energy, our will, our solidarity and our values and our local and continental models here in Africa that we will find the solutions that our continent is confronted with”.
“I am happy to listen to this young people and to discuss with you and help you take the place you deserve and which is yours in the decisions that concern you because it is thanks to this cooperation that all institutions including UNICEF will be able to evolve and change their ways of doing and being” revealed Felicite Tchibindat, UNICEF Deputy Representative for West and Central Africa Region during the public debate organised by UNICEF for the YVS.