Access to water is transforming life in rural Senegal

26 Jul 2010

Darou Ngaraf, Senegal - Kalla Niang, 12, is highly self-assured and energetic. She is busily preparing herself for high school, an opportunity that, until recently, would not have been available to her. She lives in the village of Darou Ngaraf in northern Senegal.

Like many girls in rural Senegal, Kalla and her sisters are responsible for many daily chores, which, until recently, included drawing water from a communal well that is located far from their village.

“My sisters and I had to rise before dawn to fetch water, and we were very often late for school,” she said. “We always arrived very tired because drawing and carrying water is not easy.”

Lack of energy and time for an education was not the only danger that Kalla and the other villagers faced by not having access to a reliable source of water. Drawing water from unregulated sources of water put them at risk of diarrhoea and malaria.

A joint UNDP and Government well programme, however, has been improving the opportunities and future of people like Kalla all across Senegal. Launched in 2003, the programme – called the Programme of Drinking Water and Sanitation for the Millennium – is designed to ensure the sustainable supply of drinking water for 2.3 million people in Senegal’s rural areas. It aims to raise the rate of access to clean drinking water by households to 82 percent in 2015 – the deadline for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – from 64 percent in 2004.

In September 2009, the programme drilled a well near Darou Ngaraf, providing over 4,000 villagers in 31 villages with the means to pipe clean water into their homes. By 2009, 74 percent of rural residents were able to access potable drinking water, thanks to the programme. If the trend holds steady, Senegal will be able to achieve the MDG target for drinking water.

“Women and children used to suffer the most,” remembered Aminata Guèye, president of a local association of well users. “We spent so much time drawing water and we often came down with water-related diseases.”

“Now we plan to hook up other villages that do not yet have access to drinking clear, potable water,” she said. Villagers pay a small fee to lay down the pipes that will connect their homes to the well in addition to the regular monthly utility fees.

The programme also aims to provide three million more people to an independent system for the disposal of waste water, as well as establishing latrines for schools, clinics, bus stops and weekly markets in rural communities.

For Kalla and her village, access to a clean and regular source of water is opening up new horizons. Village residents hope to gain access to micro-financing in order to set up communal agricultural fields for women farmers.

“The village is becoming greener and more beautiful every day,” she said. “We are going to plant vegetables like carrots, cabbages, potatoes and tomatoes, for our own consumption, and also to sell to other villages.”

One day, Kalla would like to become a teacher. For the time being, however, she is focused on how to provide bathroom facilities for her school, which is located a little over one kilometer away from the village. She wants to make sure the school is equipped with running water, “this precious fluid” as she is fond of calling it.

“Each time I touch it, I touch life itself,” she said.