Tackling climate change in rural and urban Senegal

As climate change alters weather patterns and extreme events become more frequent, living standards in urban areas may be negatively affected. This is well illustrated in Senegal.
Leocadlo Sebastian / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Compared to other Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, Senegal’s urban areas have always had better access to facilities. However, as climate change alters weather patterns and extreme events become more frequent, living standards in urban areas may be negatively affected.

Urbanisation is an important process in all countries, as it often precedes economic growth and a diversification of the economy. However, unplanned and poorly managed urbanisation can create health, employment and security issues. Approximately 44% of Senegalese people live in urban areas, with 65% having access to improved sanitation facilities, which is much higher than the SSA average of 40%. This is partially due to Senegal’s commitment to sustainable development – with all sectorial policies mentioning the long term development of the country.

Urbanisation challenges

While Senegal has historically managed its urbanisation compared to other SSA countries, 39.4% of the urban population lived in informal settlements in 2014. This is a figure that has increased since 2010, and improvements in urban areas have dramatically slowed down. The rapid rise in population has exacerbated issues within the informal settlements. Settlements have become even more vulnerable to flooding, increasing since 2000, with some areas remaining flooded for months at a time. In 2009, 33,000 migrant families were flooded in Dakar. Frequent flooding significantly affected the wellbeing and health of the residents and is threatening the overall development of the city. Schooling has disrupted diseases such as cholera and typhoid have re-emerged in the informal settlement of Yeumbel. While there have not been any flood related epidemics so far, the dense population and stagnant water could threaten public health as certain diseases spread quickly in these environments.

Drought and migration

There are numerous reasons why informal settlements are growing, with one factor being the increase of climate migrants from rural Senegal. Rural farmers experiencing drought are being forced to migrate to urban areas, with 40% of rural Senegalese migrants find themselves living in flood-prone informal settlements of Dakar. These farmers rely heavily on agriculture for both food and income, and are thus incredibly vulnerable to climatic shocks. Although drought in Senegal is common, occurring every 3 to 4 years, they can last for a number of years. In 2014, half the average rain fell, leading to water scarcity, the loss of livestock, and crop failures. This had a particularly bad impact on small-scale farmers as current schemes such as the West African Agricultural Productivity Programmes(WAAP) are not available for small-scale and subsistence farmers. As a way to adapt to drought and diversify their income, farmers and their families leave for Dakar.

Future prospects

As the population in Dakar’s informal settlements grow, the future is uncertain. The continuation of climate migrants, extreme climate events and unplanned migration may cause Senegal to move backwards in its development goals. Overcrowding will amplify the effects of heavy rainfall and lead to more flooding. Due to the difficulty in modelling climate systems and rainfall patterns, it is difficult to predict the future climate, both in Dakar and the rural areas that suffer from drought. Dakar faces numerous pressures and challenges that are likely to continue unless safe and clean housing is made available, or, farmers are able to increase their resilience to drought. While making programmes such as WAAP available for small-scale farmer would provide them with climate resistant crops, it is not commercially viable and would require sponsorship.

International action

Early in 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concluded the first formal agreement in 15 years for joint action concerning health and the environment. As the environment directly relates to the health of the local and global community, it is important to ensure that the environment is as safe and clean for its inhabitants as possible. The collaboration between the WHO and UNEP focuses on developing countries, since they are most vulnerable to climate change. With renewed international focus on the importance of creating safe environments to live in, Dakar and other cities similar to it may hopefully be able to avoid the negative impacts climate change have on their development process.

Ailish Craig

Ailish Craig is a recent Geography and Economics student from the University of Southampton, where she enjoyed the conflict in interests between the two subjects. Ailish has spent time volunteering in Nicaragua, on a natural resource management and sustainability project. She has a keen interest in how developing countries will be effected by climate change and how impacts can be minimised, as well as women’s rights.
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