Burundi’s water supply and sanitation (WSS)

Burundi is a small landlocked country with relatively abundant water resources. Despite this abundance, the demand for potable water is not met and sanitation services are even more limited.

Burundi’s water supply and sanitation sector endured years of destruction brought on by sabotage and neglect during the civil war and its aftermath. For example, several kilometers of water pipes, connections and 80 percent of installed meters were destroyed.

As Burundi continues to recover, new challenges are emerging as the WSS sector moves from reconstruction to development. Drinking water and sanitation coverage declined as many of Burundi’s urban centers, and particularly peri-urban areas of Bujumbura, experienced rapid growth stemming from the return of exiled and internally displaced peoples.

Households have resorted to obtaining untreated water in rivers, lakes, shallow wells, and from water haulers and unmanaged standpipes. As a result, there is a persistence of waterborne diseases, leading to high mortality rates.

Burundi is close to meeting its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for improved drinking water access but is not likely to reach the MDG for improved sanitation by 2015.

Development in the WSS sector is expected to continue as donors resume activities suspended during the years of instability.

Regulatory Framework

Ministry of Water, Energy and Mines (MWEM)

The Ministry of Water, Energy and Mines (MWEM), through its Directorate General for Water and Energy (DGEE), is responsible for leading the overall policy formulation and administrative functions of the central government as they relate to the WSS sector.

Directorate of Water Resources (DRH)

The Directorate of Water Resources (DRH) within DGEE is responsible for developing strategies for sustainable development of the country’s water resources, developing and maintaining the country’s National Water Master Plan, and maintaining the water tariff policy for rural and urban areas.

Directorate General of Rural Water and Electricity (DGHER)

In the rural areas the Directorate General of Rural Water and Electricity (DGHER) oversees and coordinates drinking water and sanitation.

The Water and Electric Authority i.e. Regie de Production and distribution of water and electricity( REGIDESO) is an autonomous public utility operating under the supervision of MWEM, is responsible for catchment, treatment, and distribution of drinking water in urban areas while Communal Water Authorities (RCEs) supply drinking water to the rural areas.

Municipal Engineering Services (SETEMU)

Municipal Engineering Services (SETEMU) is responsible for sewerage and wastewater treatment services in urban areas, but it is estimated that it only covers approximately 40 percent of Bujumbura’s needs. In peri-urban areas, approximately 90 percent of the population is without sanitation facilities. Most wastewater is disposed of in storm drains and channeled untreated to Lake Tanganyika. Other cities do not have a sewerage system or wastewater treatment facilities.

The Government of Burundi (GOB) has been working to reform WSS institutions in order to extend service, improve quality, and improve financial sustainability. In 2000, Burundi adopted a law that both liberalized the sector and created a new regulatory framework. The law defines the conditions for private sector participation and allows for establishment of a regulatory entity for water supply and energy and a development fund for the sector. It stated that REGIDESO no longer had a monopoly over public drinking water and electricity supply. The provisions of the law, including establishment of a regulator, have yet to be fully implemented.

Water Policy

A national water sector policy development process has begun, which includes the implementation of the National Water Master Plan (PDNE). The new policies aim to increase coverage through improved coordination. Specifically, Burundi has defined its current priorities as follows:

  • Rehabilitation of drinking water supply systems which could considerably increase access to this commodity.
  • Construction of new systems in areas with the most significant shortage so as to reduce regional disparities.
  • Integrated management of the country’s water resources through integrated multipurpose information systems.
  • Improved hygiene and sanitation; and
  • Encouraging the private sector to invest in the sector to ensure its sustainability.

The Government of Burundi is also working to better manage its watersheds in order to protect water sources and increase available supply for domestic purposes, through the development of an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) plan.

The Urban Sub-Sector

The overall performance of REGIDESO is inadequate due to the deterioration of existing facilities, high water losses (due to physical losses and theft), and substandard pumping and storage capacity to satisfy demand. REGIDESO is also extremely weak financially. Much of REGIDESO’s financial weakness is due to non-payment of water bills, principally by public sector users. It has been determined that REGIDESO’s insolvency can only be resolved with major financial restructuring. To this end, the government and donors are converting REGIDESO’s relationship with the government to performance-based contracts and assisting it with the necessary reforms and capacity building.

REGIDESO serves Bujumbura through 29,700 water connections and 49 standpipes, many of which are out of service. The demand for new connections is high, but REGIDESO lacks the means to satisfy it, installing only about 1,500 new connections per year. Service coverage has not kept up with the rapidly growing urban population in the greater Bujumbura area. There are approximately 150,000 inhabitants living in the city’s neighborhoods of Musaga, Kanyosha, Buterere, Kinama, Kamenge, and Gihosha, only 4 percent of which have a household connection with water service.

The Rural Sub-Sector

The government has laid out objectives for providing WSS services in the rural sector to provide at least one potable water source within a 500 meter radius of each household; and for sanitation, to provide one covered indoor latrine in every household and one public latrine in each public establishment.

During the civil war, many of the existing infrastructure and facilities fell into very poor condition. The DGHER hopes to help address drinking water needs in the rural areas through RCEs.