Climate adaptation brings men back to women-only village

How tackling water scarcity in Burkina Faso brought men, a beer brewing business and a donkey to village of women

(Source: Give Water Give Life)

(Source: Give Water Give Life)

By Sophie Yeo in Marrakech

Sisene is one of Burkina Faso’s most thriving villages. 

In the world’s third poorest country, it is acutely vulnerable to climate change, yet now the villagers keep gardens and grow fruit trees. There are chickens, two cows, and a donkey. Some of the women run a beer brewing business. And there are men.

It wasn’t always the case. Before 2008, Sisene’s 2,000 people were suffering the impacts of drought and a series of military coups.

And almost all of its inhabitants were women. Due to drought and irregular rainfall, the village’s men had left to farm more fertile land in the Ivory Coast or Ghana, sending money home to sustain their families.

The women and children were walking up to four hours a day to find water. The six wells in the village had run dry.

The situation is not unusual: women are often more vulnerable to climate change than men. Their stronger ties to the land and family means they are less able to migrate away from deteriorating conditions or disasters.

(Source: Give Water Give Life)

(Source: Give Water Give Life)

Solange Kaboré was one of a very few women born in the village to receive an education. She moved to Ouagadougou, the capital city, after her mother died when she was very young.

In the 1970s, she took up a job in the Burkina Faso branch of the US Peace Corps office, where she met a young American girl, Kathleen McDonald. The two stayed in touch. And over thirty years later in 2007, when Kaboré called to ask for help on a water basin project for her native town, McDonald was able to raise US$ 100,000 to fund the project.

By May 2008, the basin was built, almost entirely by the women of the village, who dug and pounded the clay soil to create an impermeable surface.

The location was decided by village elders, who pointed out the spot where the ground stays dampest the longest during the dry season.

McDonald recalls: “On 1 June I had an email from Solange that said: ‘Great news. The woman from the village just come into town to tell me that the basin was finished, that the rains have come and we have fish and a crocodile.’”

The basin, capable of holding up to 6,000 cubic meters, has not been empty since, even at the end of the dry season.

The men return

As the basin filled, the men returned to the village to their families, again able to farm their own land.

Among those who returned to his big family and three wives after 15 years away was François Ramdé, Kaboré’s brother. Together with McDonald and others, he now helps run the charity that emerged from the Sisene project: Give Water Give Life.

They hope to expand to other areas, but it is no small task. There are around 8,400 villages across the nation, and villages Guinea, Mali and Kenya have also expressed interest.

They hope to create an improved model, combining satellite imagery with solar powered irrigation and water filtration pumps.

It is part of a growing trend across the region.

A report released this week by the UK-based think tank Overseas Development Institute revealed that Burkina’s poorest farmers have restored 300,000 hectares of degraded land using such techniques, producing food for half a million people, over the past three decades.

Sisene illustrates the benefits of getting women involved in projects, says McDonald. Despite their vulnerability to climate change, women are often underrepresented in discussions, both politically and at the grassroots level.

“It’s unfortunate that even in Burkina, it’s mostly men who are in charge, but there are some men who know the value of starting with the women,” she says.

“If you go with the women they will lead the way. If you give them the opportunity, they know how to do it.”

(Source: Give Water Give Life)

(Source: Give Water Give Life)

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