PARIS (AP) — France is sending military forces to distribute water on the French Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte, which is facing an unprecedented water crisis prompted by the island cluster’s most severe drought in decades.
Troops with the French Foreign Legion and French navy based in the region will work with local authorities to ensure water supplies to local populations, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Authorities have ordered water cuts two days out of three on Mayotte, a territory northwest of Madagascar that is the poorest part of France. The water woes come on top of migration tensions around people arriving from the neighboring country of Comoros.
Residents protested Saturday outside the Mayotte water management headquarters, carrying banners reading “Mayotte is Thirsty!”, according to local media reports. When the water taps are working, families fill up buckets and tubs as they can, but supplies quickly run low, especially in more remote areas.
Around 30% of the population doesn’t have access to running water at home, according to regional health authorities. They have noted an increase in the number of people suffering diarrhea, and diseases such as typhoid were already far more widespread than in mainland France.
Authorities appointed a special ‘’water prefect” this summer to deal with Mayotte’s most severe drought since 1997. Insufficient rainfall resulted in low water levels in reservoirs that residents rely on to get through the dry season from May to November.
Some reservoirs could be empty by the end of September, according to a statement last week from the regional administration. The reservoirs produce 20,000 cubic meters of water daily, when the needs are estimated to be 42,000 cubic meters per day, it said.