Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Instead of waiting for municipal authorities to respond, residents of a Dakar suburb install their own infrastructure despite more than one social divide.

A bowl balanced on her head, Awa Dniaye emerges from her family compound next to the small clinic. She pours water whitened from rice mixed with fish scales onto the soil. "What do you expect me to do when there’s no drain?" she replies sharply to anyone who might want to tell her to do otherwise.

Like most women from Yeumbeul, Awa has more serious worries. "People here have nothing," explains Laye Seye Saer, deputy mayor of this former Lébou village (the Lébou were the original occupants of this region of Dakar, Senegal), set up as a municipality by Dakar’s decentralizing administration in January 1996. "They drink polluted water," he says. "The young people are unemployed; they can’t cultivate the fields because it doesn’t rain enough, nor can they grow vegetable gardens because you have to drill 10 to 15 metres before finding water, instead of the two metres it used to take. Let’s not even go into the lack of land and motorized pumps." Provided in theory by municipal authorities, the irregular rubbish collection is limited to two main roads.


"How can things improve when everything is a priority?" laments Saer. Without public toilets, how can you stop children urinating on the walls of their schools (with only one secondary and seven primary schools for a population of over 100,000 of which 52% are under the age of 20)? Even worse, insists the school director, Djiby Diouf, more than half of the population has no running water and just two solutions: fork out 25F CFA (about five cents) for a basin of water from the fountain (plus a monthly fee of 100F CFA per household) or go to a well. However, a recent study by UNESCO and the University of Dakar found that two out of three wells are contaminated by faecal coliform bacteria.

Yet, Yeumbeulans don’t give up. "In the face of such precarious living conditions, they organize themselves into youth associations, residents’ committees, businesses... Despite the number of these somewhat unstructured groups, these initiatives appear to be credible alternatives," notes Mohamed Soumaré, from the NGO Enda Third World. But how can they get past square one of social mobilization to forming a solid local citizenry?

"Our theory is that collective well-being grows from concrete action," says Geneviève Domenach-Chich, responsible for UNESCO’s Cities project. Concrete is the word: the "project supporting community dynamics and improvement in quality of life" undertaken at Yeumbeul consists of structuring and reinforcing local hygiene initiatives. UNESCO provides two-thirds of the budget while Enda coordinates the project. In 1996-1997, a budget of $100,000 saw the construction of 44 sewage ponds, 32 toilets and five water stations plus three rubbish collection carts. Savings and credit facilities for 10 womens’ groups were also supported and local leaders, businesswomen, carpenters and handymen trained. Beyond that, the project has enabled the village to alter the balance of power between the different social groups as well as between the people and the municipal authorities.

The first lesson learnt is that in such an economically drained community, it is difficult to get people so consumed with individual problems to organize themselves as a community for the collective good.The interpersonal conflicts are as bitter as resources are rare and they are multi-ethnic (Wolof, Toucouleur, Diola, etc.). Basically, three groups represented by three associations and corresponding to defined territories want the project to give their members preference. "Straightaway we noticed conflictual relations between the local organizations," underline those assessing the project, Pape Salif Seck and Abdsoul Karim Gueye.

L aying down more than water pipes
(P h o t o U N E S C O ).


Integrating new arrivals, rural Diolas for the most part, is also a problem. "They claim a right to participate in the decisions that the original members of the traditional village don’t seem ready to give." Another divide arises as the Lébous see their traditional power giving way to second generation migrants (predominantly Toucouleurs) who are very involved in the project. Finally, the assessors note "seeing the creation of citizens’ associations focused on the development of their village of origin." Indeed the very popular El Hadji Ibrahima Ndiaye of the Toucouleurs is impatient. "We need more equipment as we’re organizing a hygiene campaign."

The population is starting to impose itself as a partner to the authorities who are totally overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. "We don’t have the means, not even a vehicle to clear the streets when they’re illegally occupied by street vendors and the like," laments Saer. "We’re forced to hire clandestine taxis!" Despite the suspicion of some local politicians fearing competition from leaders closer to the population than they are, "exchange is beginning to develop between the associative and political worlds," says Domenach-Chich. "We are regularly consulted and I participate in municipal meetings," confirms Ndiaye. For Soumaré, the project’s limits "show that the NGOs and community groups cannot replace the state and municipal authorities. Their initiatives should be considered as leads - legitimated by UNESCO’s support - to follow up and be supported on the ground by the public service."

S.B. and Daniel BEKOUTOU

Extract from UNESCO SOURCES Making the most of globalization. No 97 January 1998

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