By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

Gaya, a village in northern Senegal, is located near the 1800km long Senegal river. Yet, despite this proximity, many families have no access to safe water.

The national water company installed a water distribution network, which has been in the area for decades. But for Yagaye Gueye and his family, the costs of connection proved too high—given their dire financial situation.

They live barely about the poverty line.

“I’m old and I do not have enough resources,” explains the 70-year-old man. “I’m still struggling to repay my debt for a loan I took, from a local bank, some years ago, to start a rice and tomatoes farming business. It’s been hard for me to repay because my business failed, due to crop failure.”

After years of self-deprivation, Yagaye managed to build a home for his family. However, with limited resources, the house had no running water or toilets.

For a period of five years, every day, Yagaye used a donkey cart to fetch water from the Senegal river, some hundred metres from his home. The daily struggle to secure water also burdened his wife, and his elder daughter, who is now married. The time she spent each day walking to bring water from the river, took her away from the classroom.

Yagaye Gueye and his family have used the river’s water for years, despite the fact that they are aware that it is unsafe for consumption.     

“I knew the risk but I did not have any other option. I’m poor and feeding my family was my top priority,” he explains.

Yagaye Gueye is not alone in this plight. Many communities living along the bank of the Senegal river use its water for various purposes: drinking, bathing, laundry, fishing, transport, and for irrigation.

In Gaya, only 60 percent of the households are connected to the water network. Many of them have no toilets. With no toilets nearby, many people resort to open defecation. This has also led to poor health, and other risks.

The village is a destination for a yearly religious pilgrimage for thousands, and, for this reason, the risk of a serious outbreak of waterborne diseases was just too high.

But that was before the intervention of the Senegalese Red Cross.

With the help of the Senegal River Basin Initiative project (IRIS), a regional cross border initiative launched by IFRC in 2014, aiming at building resilience of communities living along the Senegal river, in four countries (Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal), the Senegalese Red Cross has built 206 latrines and installed 411 water taps in the area.

For Yagaye Gaye and all other people who benefited from the programme, the water related challenges faced by so many communities along the Senegal river, will no longer affect their families.

“Having a water tap at home has greatly improved our quality of life. We have also noted a significant decline in cases of diarrhoea and bilharzia in the village,” said Yagueye.

Senegal River Basin Initiative (IRIS) is a cross-border, integrated regional programme launched by the IFRC in 2014, together with National Red Cross Red Crescent Societies from Senegal, Guinea, Mali and Mauritania. Its goal is to promote and protect healthy and safe lives and livelihoods in vulnerable communities in the Senegal River Basin, now and in the future. The first phase of the project is funded by the Government of Japan while the second phase is currently funded by the Swedish Red Cross. In Senegal, the project targets Dagana, Rosso and Gaya.