Senegal: Women in Dakar turn flood water into plants (Trust)

March 16, 2015
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Senegal’s coastal cities are not yet affected by rising sea levels. But floods from heavy rains often cause problems.

Mamadou N’Diaye is a local village leader. He says, “The people here [were] prisoners in their homes when it [rained].”Until the start of a new water capture project, local people were largely left on their own to cope with the flooding. Floods washed away houses, ruined businesses and heightened the risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera and E. coli.

But a new project has now harnessed the waters, and transformed them into a source of fresh water for Pikine, a crowded, dusty Dakar suburb that is dry for much of the year.

Emilie Faye is a local community leader who is involved in the “Live with Water” project. She points to the seat of her sofa to indicate how far flood waters have reached in the past. The wall and ceiling of her home is discoloured and peeling from water damage.

Ms. Faye says, “Before, one had to accept that houses here flood. But this project opened our eyes to see there is a solution.”

The project captures flood water in large sandy basins. Local residents near the basins earn money from growing cash crops of mint and basil.

The basins are natural low-lying areas where schools and homes once stood. Particularly heavy rains flooded the area in 2009 and destroyed houses and school buildings. The area became an open garbage pit which attracted mosquitoes and criminals. Now reclaimed, the basins have become a green and pleasant site, populated with medicinal plants, fish and herons.

One of the areas most affected was the local market, which was regularly swamped by flood water. Stallholders had to close their shops, and women lost large sums of money on fish they were unable to sell. But now the market has a drainage system built into the street, which funnels rainwater into the basins.

Babacar N’Diaye is a construction expert with the “Live with water” project. He says the State helped relocate a few families. But it did not address the central problem – that the surrounding land is low-lying, flood-prone marshland. And weather forecasters are predicting more heavy rain this year.

Edouard Diatta is a senior consultant with the architecture firm involved in the project. He says: “The most important result of this project is not the newly-built infrastructure, but rather people’s ability to come together as a group and achieve something.”

In this vein, the community is coming together to address some of the weaknesses in local water and sanitation services. Ms. Faye and other community leaders have been trying to persuade women to filter debris from their water before they pour it into the new street drains. The project encourages residents to use garbage trucks instead of tossing rubbish into the basins. Many women have also received training in organic gardening. Others are organizing groups to prepare for and respond to disasters such as floods.

Ms. Faye said the project has already helped her and her family. She and her daughter grow cash crops in the gardens around the basins. They each earn $22 U.S. a month to put toward school fees and medical supplies.

To read the article on which this story was based, Dakar women grow herb business from floodwater, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20150306060028-owtoy/

Photo credit: Thompson Reuters Foundation