The Bia River is a vital source of water for the residents of Bianouan in eastern Ivory Coast. They drink the river water, and they bathe, fish and wash their clothes in it. But all that changed about a month ago, when the river turned a murky brown. Our Observers suspect that illegal gold panning is behind the contamination.

People in Bianouan can no longer use the river for drinking or washing, because it is so polluted, and fishing has come to a standstill. Ivory Coast’s semi-public water distribution company, SODECI (Société de distribution d’eau de Côte d’Ivoire), iis usually responsible for cleaning the river water for drinking. But SODECI has shut down the water treatment plant that they installed in the area only last August. At the beginning of March, SODECI commissioned several laboratories to iinvestigate pollution in the Bia River. In the meantime, to make up for the lack of drinking water, Ivory Coast's national water bureau has started sending tankers of drinking water to the area on a daily basis.

Residents of Bianouan queue up to collect water. Photo sent by our Observer.

'Washing with this water makes us itch'