Drop by disappearing drop, water is an ever more precious resource on Mayotte, the poorest place in the European Union.
Taps flow just one day out of three in this French territory off Africa’s eastern coast, thanks to a drawn-out drought compounded by years of underinvestment and mismanagement.
Diseases like cholera and typhoid are on the rebound, and the French army recently intervened to distribute water and quell tensions over supplies.
The crisis is a wake-up call to the French government about the challenges and cost of managing human-caused climate change across France’s far-flung territories.
Racha Mousdikoudine, a 38-year-old mother of two living in Labattoir, washes dishes with bottled water, when she can get it. When the water taps run, she says, “I have to choose between taking a shower or preserving my water supply.
“This shortage will be global in a few years. This is an opportunity for all French people to stand in solidarity with us. To be with us, to find solutions and make visible the situation happening in Mayotte,” Mousdikoudine said. “Because this can happen in all French departments.”
She is helping coordinate a protest movement called “Mayotte is Thirsty,” which is demanding accountability for alleged embezzlement, leaks and lack of investment in sustainable water supplies.
At one recent protest, residents sang, shouted and banged empty plastic bottles as they marched into the Mayotte water management company.
“It is important to keep talking with the authorities, but we are not going to sit idly by,” said Mousdikoudine. “If we stay at home, politicians will still say that the population is resilient, that we can manage this situation. But we cannot do it. Lives are at stake, our physical and mental health, as well as our children’s lives.”