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Like many other low-income countries throughout Africa and the world, Burundi’s tumultuous political and economic climate moving into the 21st century has contributed to widespread poverty and inequity that still exists in the small country today. Despite its size, Burundi is the second most densely populated country in Africa and one of the five poorest countries in the world, with approximately 72.9% of its residents living below the poverty line.1 As a consequence, families in Burundi are faced with many social, financial, and health challenges on a daily basis. The United Nations has created 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and promote prosperity and peace in the hopes of achieving each goal by 2030.2 SDG’s 5 and 6 focus on improving water and sanitation access while narrowing gender inequality throughout the world. In Burundi, efforts have and will continue to be made towards accomplishing these two goals in hopes of providing equitable opportunities and safe and accessible drinking water for every person in Burundi.
Burundians have been faced with changes in the political, social, and health care climates in recent decades. From 1993 until the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2000, Burundi was in a state of civil war that displaced the many rural farmers that make up the majority of the country’s population.3 Gender roles were especially affected as brutality, rape, and child abuse became more widespread amongst women and girls, while men and boys were drafted into the army.3 Trends in education enrollment between boys and girls in Burundi changed; however, the war’s effects on the gender gap within the country were not all negative. Instead of deepening the gender divide, the Gender Parity Index of the country slightly improved from 0.80 to 0.83.3 Even though girls are less likely to complete primary school than boys in times of peace, boys school enrollment was more negatively impacted by the war.3 In contrast, exposure to conflict narrowed the gender gap for girls from nonpoor households.3 These social changes helped set the stage upon which efforts could be made to promote women and girls in Burundi.
As Burundian leaders continue to address the civil unrest within their country, successes have already been seen in addressing the gender gap. Under SDG 5, which aims to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, four interventions have been developed by UN women to increase economic empowerment and the participation of women in leadership roles in Burundi. Implemented in 2014, these four intervention areas include Leadership, Violence against women and girls, Women Peace and Security (WPS), and Humanitarian Action in conflict-afflicted areas.4 Substantial changes have already been seen even at the governmental level. Since 2010, the constitution of Burundi now mandates that 30% of officials in the government, national assembly, and Senate are women.4 While there is still room for improvement in accomplishing SDG 5, social perceptions of what men and women are expected to contribute in Burundi are already changing rapidly.
SDG 6 focuses on improving water access and sanitation for all people. This is an especially challenging task in Burundi where1 in 3 Burundians still do not have reasonable access to drinking water, and only 1 out 5 have access to basic sanitation services.5 These are public health concerns that goes beyond the need for drinking as water and sanitation access are directly linked to illness, disease, and mortality. In Burundi, diarrhea remains a leading cause of child and infant mortality, with 12% of the deaths of children under 5 being attributed to diarrhea.5 These illnesses are preventable and the developmental, physiological, and social repercussions that result from relying on untreated water sources are substantial. The water, hygiene, and basic sanitation (WASH) sector was established and incorporated into three Burundian governmental Ministries.5 Because of the socio-economic unrest that prevails in Burundi, funding for public health interventions often comes from outside sources. Consequently, the capabilities of the WASH sector have been fluctuating in response to budget cuts of 84.6% from external sources in 2016.5 Sanitation and water access are still major public health concerns in Burundi, and the need for stable sources of aid remains.
More funding programs and interventions will likely need to be implemented in order to achieve SDG 6; however, some projects have been implemented to address the water access problem in Burundi. Efforts by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have included bringing in hydraulic engineers to find and study water sources so that sustainable water access infrastructures, such as rainwater tanks, can be erected.6 In addition, UNICEF’s 2018 program targets include providing 200,000 people with access to 7.5 liters of water suitable for cooking, drinking, and personal hygiene, along with hygiene education for 350,000 people in Burundi.7 Community mobilization and collaboration on local and international fronts will continue to play important roles as UNICEF and partners strive to provide safe and clean drinking water for the people of Burundi.
Gender equality and safe and accessible water are two goals that have not yet been achieved in Burundi. Whether or not these goals will be met by 2030, the country, along with help from national and international partners, continues to promote these objectives so that they may be achieved at some point in the future.

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