In Mayotte, a group of French territorial islands between Mozambique and Madagascar, residents face a severe shortage of clean water. According to many of the islands’ nearly 300,000 people, the response to a years-long drought has been lacking.
CNN reported that Mayotte is experiencing its worst drought in over 25 years, with its two water reserves operating at less than 10% of their capacities. Authorities are tightly rationing water in the island territory, with citizens having access for 18-hour stretches “every couple of days,” per a schedule the government issued on Oct. 9. Worse, even when the water is on for residents, it is often contaminated, exacerbating an outbreak of gastroenteritis among residents.
The dire conditions have caused outrage among residents, who blame local officials and the French government. France colonized Mayotte in 1841 and declared it one of its five overseas departments in 2011. Despite being legally part of France, conditions in Mayotte are significantly worse than in mainland France. According to the Associated Press, Mayotte is “the poorest place in the European Union.” Most residents live below the French poverty line, half earning less than $170 monthly.
While the water shortage is primarily the result of a six-year drought that continues to worsen, residents also blame corruption and mismanagement for the crisis. A protest movement using the slogan “Mayotte is Thirsty” has accused officials of embezzling funds. Inspections of the islands’ infrastructure have revealed hundreds of leaks that result in wasting some of the already dwindling water supply, and officials have been very slow at drilling new water sources or upgrading facilities to process water for safe drinking.
France’s international radio news network RFI reported that government efforts to distribute water to the community’s most vulnerable members now include the entire population. “Soldiers and firefighters are being deployed to hand out some 330,000 litres of bottled water per day on Mayotte,” or roughly one liter per resident daily, the outlet noted. This distribution does not represent a long-term solution to the crisis. It may also create a new environmental disaster by producing millions of tons of plastic waste every day, far beyond the capacity of facilities in Mayotte to recycle.
With the environmental crisis continuing, France’s efforts to relieve its most distressed territory appear insufficient, leaving Mayotte residents to wait for their local officials and their leaders in Paris to give the ongoing crisis the attention and resources it needs.