Current Affairs West Africa

Senegal must take urgent action on water security, says World Bank report

Senegal must take urgent action on water security, says World Bank report
  • PublishedMarch 27, 2023

“Water security is the bedrock of Senegal’s development and key to its socio-economic development goals,” says a new study from the World Bank. The report, Water Security in Senegal: Challenges and Recommendations, was made public at the United Nations Water Conference in New York, which finished on 24 March.

During the meeting, President Macky Sall of Senegal was awarded the Leadership Prize for Water Security in Africa. It was received on his behalf by Senegal’s water minister, Serigne Mbaye.

“I am honoured to receive the Leadership Award for Water Security, on the occasion of the UN Water Conference,” commented Macky Sall on Twitter.

For the president, this award “recognises [Senegal’s] efforts for universal access to water and the role of our country, host of the Ninth Water Forum, in mobilising the international community for better management of water resources”.

This Water Forum, which took place from March 22 to 27, was co-organised by Switzerland and Senegal, provided Senegal an opportunity to promote “the Blue Deal for water and sanitation security, for peace and development”, commented Senegal’s Ministry of Water in a press release.

The government of Senegal also wishes to put into perspective “cross-border and international cooperation in the field of water, multi-actor cooperation, intersectoral cooperation, including scientific cooperation, and the place of water in the achievement of the 2030 agenda”, it said.

However, while the government’s national socio-economic development strategy, Plan for an Emerging Senegal, aims to mobilise “abundant, good quality water for all, everywhere, and for all uses in a healthy, sustainable living environment” by 2035, it does not take into account constraints linked to water resources availability or management, which is why it has drawn on the expertise of the World Bank.

Indeed, “deteriorating water resources and an inadequate institutional framework are threatening both the country’s water security and economic growth”, comments the World Bank report.

The availability of water does not always correspond to needs and the quality of water is not always there. For example, potable groundwater provides 85% of drinking water and most industrial uses but is threatened by overuse and pollution. Water stress is straining the country’s ability to meet water needs.

An exhaustible and degradable resource

The World Bank report takes a tough line on this issue: “Bold measures will be necessary to address the main constraints identified: obsolete texts, overlapping responsibilities, organizational weaknesses, hierarchical positioning of the structure in charge of WRM [water resources management], and lack of human and financial resources.” 

And the report underlines the urgency of the issue – according to its calculations, the cost of the status quo in the management of water resources already has an impact on more than 10% of GDP, due to extreme events and pollution. The cost of floods represents 6.3% of GDP.

Therefore, tackling water security “will require considering and managing water resources as an exhaustible and degradable resource with significant economic value”.

The report details the situation region by region, explaining, among other elements, the damage caused by gold panning in certain areas of the country. It states that “nowhere are water security issues more than in the Dakar-Mbour-Thiès (DMT) triangle, which comprises more than a third of the Senegalese population and economic activity”. This triangle concentrates half of Senegal’s GDP, shows growth of 4% per year, and yet faces “major risks for water security”.

The World Bank recommends prioritising existing development plans in this area in a government prioritisation programme, following the principles of the circular economy . Planned investment, particularly in the DMT triangle, needs to be increased to provide better sanitation and prevent flooding. SONES (the National Water Company of Senegal) has the financial capacity to support a significant part of the sector’s debt service, judges the report.

Senegal can move in the right direction

In legal and organisational matters, the report recommends that Senegal comply with good international practices, starting with strengthening the power of the decision-making and advisory body responsible for water issues, the DGPRE. It must be present in all regions and have adequate staff. In addition, the Higher Water Council must be reactivated and its functions specified in a revised Water Code.

The report makes a series of other recommendations, such as the creation of a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder collaboration platform. It is also possible for the country to diversify water supply sources – for example, by further protecting Lake Guiers from pollution. A groundwater replenishment programme can start as early as 2024. Treated wastewater can be better used and recharge groundwater. It is also possible, with investment, to solve the recurring problems of flooding in the suburbs of Dakar.

Written By
Laurent Soucaille

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