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Saving Lives 24/7: Flood response in Senegal

Seven months after heavy rains and floods in Pikine, Senegal, some roads are still under water.

It doesn’t take much rain to create a flood in Pikine. It’s a low-lying city just outside Senegal’s capital Dakar. The water table is near the surface, there are pockets of marshy areas, and the city lacks adequate drainage systems, so if it really rains hard, a flood is inevitable.

Unfortunately, that’s just what happened in September and October 2010. Abdoulaye N’Dao, a gregarious retired electrician with grey dread locks says the flooding in 2010 “was the most difficult compared to earlier ones… there was a lot more water.” He says his house had water up to his ankles in some of the rooms; he and his extended family of 25 people were bailing water out of the house and its courtyard for days. “Maybe crocodiles and frogs can live like that,” he says months later sitting in his now drier courtyard, “but not people.”

The heavy rains of 2010 triggered the fifth year in a row of serious flooding in Pikine, and capped off one of the rainiest years for Senegal since 1971. Dakar got a total of 20 inches, more than twice the normal amount of annual rainfall. Oxfam already was working with an organization in Pikine called Eau-Vie-Environnement (Water-Life-Environment, or EVE for short), and deployed $295,000 from Oxfam’s “Saving Lives 24/7 Fund” to help EVE respond.

The needs were urgent in Pikine: Oxfam and EVE estimated that 150,000 people in 3,600 families were badly affected, either completely displaced or living in flooded homes. With help from Oxfam, EVE planned an aggressive response, which included:

A fast survey of the worst-affected areas of Pikine, to identify families in the most need: EVE and Oxfam decided to focus its assistance on 2,812 families (roughly 30,000 people) primarily in seven of Pikine’s 16 districts.

Supporting 116 pumps, to remove water from 643 homes, 7 schools, and 18 mosques: EVE supplied fuel for pumps that moved more than a million cubic meters of water, which is something like 264 million gallons, enough to fill more than 400 Olympic swimming pools. This took 15,000 liters (about 4,000 gallons) of fuel. EVE worked with local authorities to help remove water from 228 roads in Pikine.

Removing waste: household garbage and other waste pose a severe health threat, so EVE supported the removal of 3,000 cubic meters (roughly 105,000 cubic feet) of garbage.

Delivering sand: to build up low-lying areas and shore up buildings at risk of being submerged, EVE delivered 10 truckloads of sand to each of seven districts in the city.

Promoting good hygiene: EVE distributed 2,806 hygiene kits with soap, bleach, clean buckets for storing water, mosquito nets, and water purification tablets. In follow-up visits, EVE estimated that 93.8 percent of the households it visited were using adequate methods to treat water, and that these and other measures likely helped reduce diarrhea cases from 3.12 percent of the households to 1.48 percent.

Direct financial support: With funds from Oxfam, EVE allocated 40, 000 CFA francs (about US$80) to more than 1,500 of the most severely affected households, so they could buy food, medicine, and clothing.

“A revolution”

Abdou Diouf, the executive secretary of EVE, says Oxfam did not just provide some assistance during the crisis and then withdraw along with the flood water. “This is the first time since Pikine has experienced these floods, that an [international] organization has intervened during the flooding and has decided to continue intervening after the flooding,” he says during an interview in his office in Pikine in April. Diouf says EVE was able to use a small amount of money left over from a grant from Oxfam to deal with floods in 2009 to prepare for the 2010 rainy season. When the heavy rains hit in 2010, volunteer assessment teams were already in place and trained to take action.

Oxfam also is supporting EVE’s work in 2010 to help local governments to lobby for funding they can use to improve drainage systems, and keep the pumps running in chronically flooded areas of the city.

Diouf also says the cash transfers represented “… a revolution in our intervention this year. People really appreciated this; I had people coming to the office here to specifically thank EVE and Oxfam for the money.”

Each recipient got about 40,000 CFA francs, which is about US$85. It’s unusual for an aid organization to provide money instead of food, clothing, water, and other assistance. But it allows those affected by the flood to spend the money on what they need the most, rather than what an aid organization decides is best for them.

When Assiatou Niang got her cash, she immediately thought about food. “We had no food, so I bought a bag of rice,” she says. With 30 people living in the household, including most of her nine children as well as those of her injured sister, food was a priority. “I also needed cement to repair the house, and I needed money for daily expenses around the household.” Niang is 58, and recently widowed. The cash helped her feed her family and cover other expenses for about a month over the winter.

Distributing cash is also economically efficient, according to Isaac Massaga, Oxfam’s program officer based in Dakar. “If you distribute rice in a community, you are preventing the local dealers from selling their own stock,” he says. “By helping people access food in the local market, we also help suppliers, and at the same time it helps maintain the market.”

EVE and Oxfam found a credit union that supervised the distribution of the funds to only those with vouchers provided by EVE according to the results of its household surveys. EVE transferred more than US$130,000 to families in Pikine.

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