Burundi has abundant water resources. In most parts of the country, there is a dense network of permanent watercourses and many drainage axes belonging to two major African watersheds, the Nile basin and the Congo River basin. Additionally, Burundi is very rich in natural lakes including Lakes Tanganyika, Cohoha, Rweru and Rwihinda . Lake Tanganyika is one of the largest lakes and freshwater reserves in the world, containing around 20,000 km³ of water . Approximately 8% of Lake Tanganyika, which is shared with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia, is within Burundi’s national boundaries, and it is home to the most important fishery in Burundi that accounts for 66% of total fish exports .
Despite the country’s wealthy water resources, water in Burundi is a vulnerable resource. It is limited by a variety of factors, including the frequent unfavorable climate conditions in some areas of the country and its contamination due to agricultural practices and unimproved sanitation .
According to the country’s Voluntary National Review, in 2019, the rate of access to basic drinking water services was 83% in urban areas and 60% in rural areas. Meaning 17% of the population in urban areas and 40% in rural areas did not have access to basic drinking water . Considering the basic sanitation, according to the 2019 JMP estimates, 46% of households have access to basic sanitation services at the national level. This means that more than five out of ten households (54%) do not have any access to basic sanitation services, including shared toilets, and open defecation is still a reality . Further, in Burundi, progress in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is being undermined by natural disasters. Between 2018 and 2021, 95 water systems (sources or networks) were affected, leaving large numbers of people without access to water, and forcing them to rely on unprotected water sources or surface water .
Poor access to safe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practices are persistent causes of water-borne diseases and contribute to malnutrition in Burundi. Additionally, the risk of cholera and other water-borne diseases in the country is likely to increase with the projected increases in heavy rains and flooding due to climate change .
The projected impacts of climate change are expected to threaten water availability and quality in Burundi. The risks are highest in the north and northeast of the country which are already vulnerable to rainfall shortages and in some zones soil erosion, and in the western Imbo plains which experience both rainfall shortages and floods . Rainfall shortages and droughts are expected to reduce water availability in the country and may cause important water sources to dry up, while floods put extra pressure on WASH services, both in terms of infrastructure, water quality and hygiene practices .
Further, one of the main environmental risks in Burundi is the contamination of its water sources, mainly due to agricultural practices and the lack of adequate sanitation .
Key policies and governance approach
Several ministries and institutions cover the water sector in Burundi. The Water Code, Law No. 1/02 of 26 March 2012, sets out the fundamental principles, definitions, basic concepts and the institutional framework for water resources management in Burundi . In terms of policies and strategies, the country has adopted the National Water Policy, the institutional water framework, and the National Sanitation Policy and its Plan of Action. Meanwhile, many programmes are also being implemented, such as the Sectoral Water Programme (PROSECEAU) and projects implemented by the Agency for Hydraulics and Sanitation in Rural Areas (AHAMR) and the Water and Electricity Distribution Board (REGIDESO) , .
In addition, through the national targets prioritized in the 2017 National SDG Report, Burundi has chosen two main SDG 6 targets to make water and sanitation accessible. These are target 6.1 which states “By 2030, ensure universal and equitable access to safe drinking water at an affordable cost” and target 6.2 which aims to “ensure equitable access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, with particular attention to the needs of women and girls and people in vulnerable situations” , .
The country has also implemented several adaptation projects and programs in the water sector since the adoption of the National Action Plan for Adaptation (NAPA) in 2007, and will continue to do so through implementation of its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) .
Successes and remaining challenges
The main challenges related to the management of Burundi’s water resources, as highlighted in the country’s National Reporting on the status of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), include a lack of knowledge of the country’s available water resources, the uncoordinated management of available water, and a lack of funds .
Similarly, for the WASH sector, major constraints remain and are linked to, among other things, the lack of financial means in order to increase and maintain water and sanitation infrastructures to cover the entire national territory , . Additionally, the sector is covered by several ministries and institutions, which can create difficulties in terms of WASH budget monitoring and programming. Although financial gaps remain, budgetary allocations to the WASH sector have increased in the country from BIF 34.1 billion in 2011 to BIF 35.5 billion in 2021-2022. The state budget allocated to this sector has seen a significant increase of more than one hundred percent (128.7%) between 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. This is due to the inclusion in this sector of the budget of the Régie de Production et de Distribution de l’Eau et de l’Électricité (REGIDESO), amounting to 17.0 billion Burundian francs (BIF), or 47.8% of the sector budget .
- Establish monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to encourage all institutions and stakeholders to implement the strategies of the National Water Policy in order to achieve the objectives that have been set.
- There is a need for a national assessment of water resources for their rational use.
- There is also a need for a national reference laboratory for water quality control, instrument extension and public education.
- Gain the support of technical and financial partners for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).
- Awareness raising and capacity building for private sector involvement in IWRM is needed.
- It is crucial to increase budgetary allocations to the WASH sector. This increase can come from internal resources, or from external resources and should focus on the capital expenditure needed to increase the infrastructure of the sector.
- There is also a need to develop the WASH sector strategy and to establish a single framework to improve sector coordination and budget monitoring because the sector is covered by various ministries/institutions.
 World Bank Group. 2017. Burundi Country Environmental Analysis : Understanding the Environment within the Dynamics of a Complex World—Linkages to Fragility, Conflict, and Climate Change. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28899 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
 MINISTERE DES FINANCES, DU BUDGET ET DE LA COOPERATION AU DEVELOPPEMENT ECONOMIQUE, REPUBLIQUE DU BURUNDI (2020). RAPPORT DE L’EXAMEN NATIONAL VOLONTAIRE SUR LA MISE EN ŒUVRE DES OBJECTIFS DE DEVELOPPEMENT DURABLE AU BURUNDI.
 Walmsley, B and Hussleman, S, (2020). Handbook on environmental assessment legislation in selected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. 4th edition. Pretoria: Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) in collaboration with the Southern African Institute for Environmental Assessment (SAIEA). Chapter 5: Burundi – DRAFT FOR CONSULTATION.