Senegal has abundant water resources, both surface and groundwater, but the availability of this water fluctuates according to the season (and the abundance or scarcity of rainfall) and the area of the country. This makes Senegal highly dependent on external water resources compared to other sub-Saharan African countries.
On the other hand, the case of water supply and treatment in Senegal has very particular characteristics compared to other African countries, due to two factors. The first is the existence of the Sénégalaise Des Eaux company, a public-private partnership that has been operating and managing the public drinking water service in urban areas since 1996. Thanks to this system, access to drinking water has improved, domestic connections have increased and in general the quality of life in rural and urban areas has become better. The success of this partnership has led Senegal to be considered “a model of public-private partnership in sub-Saharan Africa”.
The other factor improving the prospects for access to drinking water is the existence of a national company, Société Nationale Des Eaux Du Sénégal (SONES), which is responsible for investment management, public information and awareness-raising on water economics, and quality control of the public water utility, among other functions.
However, while these two entities have so far contributed to making a difference in access to drinking water in Senegal, high population growth, especially in urban areas, and climate change are changing the country’s water supply needs and, therefore, its immediate and future challenges.
Current status of access to drinking water in Senegal
In Senegal, surface water is the main source of supply for agriculture, but if there is a shortage of rainfall, there is not enough to meet the demand of one of the main economic sectors and a self-subsistence system for many people in the country. On the other hand, groundwater supplies 85% of the water for human consumption and industrial uses, but this source is in danger due to overexploitation and pollution.
According to The World Bank, Senegal is already in a situation of “water stress” due to growing water needs, and current abstractions are expected to grow by 30-60% by 2035. The recent COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid urbanization of certain areas, especially in Dakar, only contribute to aggravate the problem.
The current Senegal Emergent Plan (PSE), which aims to provide “abundant and good quality water for everyone, everywhere and for all uses in a healthy and sustainable living environment” by 2035, may not be sufficient, as it does not take into account constraints related to the availability or management of water resources. If the country wants to achieve its development goals, it needs to diversify water sources and improve intersectorial coordination.
Future challenges include the improvement of water supply
Senegal is now one of the emerging economies on the African continent, especially in terms of technology, but this will hardly be consolidated if the current challenges related to water supply are not solved.
Fortunately, projects are already underway to improve the country’s water infrastructure, such as USAID’s investment in two initiatives to produce and market safe drinking water for human consumption, on the one hand, and to improve sanitation facilities and treat both industrial and residential wastewater, on the other.
According to a study by The World Bank, the priorities for Senegal with regard to its water resources are:
- Establish a platform for collaboration between sectors and stakeholders to improve water management.
- Diversify water supply sources.
- Better protect the Lac de Guiers from pollution. This lake, located in the north of the country, is currently the main source of Dakar’s water supply through subway pipes.
- Implement a voluntary groundwater replenishment program.
- Promote the use of treated wastewater for agriculture and aquifer recharge. Here, the installation of electrolysis plants for local supply would be an efficient and cost-effective solution.
- Promote the use of rainwater for agriculture in the Niayes area, the coastal area where most of the country’s horticultural production is concentrated.
- Increase the population’s access to safely managed sanitation services to avoid the proliferation of diseases caused by the use of contaminated water.
The main conclusion of the current state of the water treatment sector in Senegal is that the old systems, however efficient they may have been at the time, may not be sufficient to cope with the new challenges arising, in this case, from population growth in very localized urban areas, and climate change that alters natural rainfall cycles and decreases water resources, especially in rural areas. Thus, improving water supply and treatment infrastructures will be key to Senegal’s economic and social future.