The context of projects in Burundi

by wonderfullyrich on August 9, 2010

Previously I talked about what I was doing in Burundi talking about CAWST and the stages of clean water. I want to back up a bit and talk about Burundi for a bit in order to give you a context for the CAWST water filter project in Burundi and why it has to be cheap, ubiquitous, and darn simple.  Burundi is a very harsh economic and very different cultural existence to the biological and physic trick that originates in the west.  The context is extremely useful to know because although it doesn't change the biology or the physics, it does change how you introduce it and get buy-in.  This is all based on my experience so I'm sure some of it's debatable.

First off many things are going on in Burundi.  Eastern Africa (i.e. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi is dominated by a trade language of English and Swahilli (with English becoming more dominant), but Burundi is a Francophone country and speaks mostly French as a trade language. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) speaks French, but the DRC has it's own very large problems (being a very, very large country).  Technically Rwanda only started teaching English last year, so it to still speaks French, but you should get my drift.  Swahilli isn't used much are associated with some bad historical connections, so they aren't generally trusted.  

Burundi, is a landlock country.  Think of it as an island, as the same principles apply.  It requires at least one country to get to a shipping hub, but more likely three (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, as Tanzania has less industry then does Kenya).  Effectively this means (and is also true for Rwanda) that to get a Connex box (large metal container) of goods, half the cost is to get it to Kenya, then the other half to transport it through multiple customs/bribe barriers.  It's tough to get material in, and the country is very small so resources are a problem.  This translates into very little processed goods being created and very little general manufacturing capability.  (As a reminder Processed goods are where the money is, if i.e. get raw materials from somewhere at 1 dollar, process it, and sell it for 40 dollars.)

A civil war was recently fought here.  It was an ethnic war, one that we all know about in Rwanda, but which also happened twice in Burundi (once in the 70's and once in the 90's).  Add this to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the population along with it's demographics is very young and dies young.  

Corruption, civil strife, and demographics basically make this a relatively unstable environment.  Things are improving, fast and dramatically even.  (One random example 2 years ago chocolate was available at nearly 9 dollars a bar, now it's 2.5 dollars a bar.)  These elections, although they aren't nearly perfect seem likely not to end in outright civil uprising and a military coup de ta.

Land is (like Rwanda) both over allocated and under-utilized. Although many of the diaspora are returning due to the improved stability, the land isn't there for them.  For that matter try sub dividing a plot of land 5 times, then another 4 times, and etc, one round for each set of children (even assuming a high mortality).  It doesn't really go far enough, ever.  Consider that they also use the same techniques that have been used for many many generations, but that health has improved (in spite of various epidemics).  Modern techniques of industrial farming, organic farming, permaculture, whatever really doesn't exist here on a useful level.

All this adds up to the picture without the subject.  The citizens of Burundi, up country (i.e. not in Bujumbura), are very poor.  Many transact less then 80,000 Burundian Francs per year (a current value of 66 USD) and mostly live off of (non-transacted) subsistence farming in a clan/family where they survive as a group.  Kurundi is the dominate language even though French is generally taught in schools as well.  Schools in general are expensive as school fees are proportionally high.  Medical for children is free, but adults who go in for a doctors visit pay 10,000 to 40,000 for a visit (and get drugs).  

The bottom line is that it's a tough environment that needs a lot of work in it's infrastructure, with psychology, in spurring economically,  in improving the quality of medical care while lowering it's cost, in reducing the birth rate, etc.  The basics of food, water, shelter, and health (mental and physical) are key, but as it's all intertwined it's hard to see a start point.  Perhaps though, you can see why I initially thought the BioSand filter is too expensive and too complicated to work.  I think it might be the best option for the area, but I feel it needs to adapt to local goods to be cheaper and easier to build.  

Next I talk about what I'm trying to do on that front.

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