Jules Marie Diouf was only able to start his small vegetable farm in Loul Sessène three years ago. “It wasn’t possible before; the water from wells was too salty to grow anything,” he says. But thanks to the Ndiosmone–Palmarin Water Supply Project, he now grows aubergines, tomatoes, cassava and onions, which provide him with a regular income. “I can make up to 50,000 CFA francs [US$81] a day selling my produce in Dakar. Many more people here are now starting farms as well.

Jules is just one of thousands of people whose lives have been transformed in this way. The project, which was supported by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), constructed boreholes, water treatment and storage infrastructure, and distribution pipes across the Thies and Fatick districts of Senegal. This has brought clean, safe water to hundreds of remote villages, where previously people were forced to use dirty, salty water drawn from wells.

Besides providing a vital resource for new farmers such as Jules, this water is used for drinking, washing and watering livestock, and it has had life-changing impacts: people’s health has improved greatly, children can more easily go to school, and women have more time to earn an income now they don’t have to collect water each day.

Expert engineering reaches the furthest communities

The project saw the installation of a complete water extraction and distribution network.

Four boreholes pump fresh water from a vast underground aquifer, which is then chlorinated and stored in two large reservoirs built as part of the project,  near the town of Tassette.

From these reservoirs, clean water can be distributed all across the Thies and Fatick regions, including the villages on islands far out in the Sine-Saloum Delt, via an extensive network of pipes.

These pipes reach 136 villages, and 350,000 people – a significant increase on the initial 116 villages expected during the project’s appraisal.

The total cost was US$33 million, of which the IsDB provided US$9.31 million (28 per cent). Other funders included the Saudi Fund for Development (US$8.78 million), the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (US$7.74 million) and the Government of Senegal (US$7.17 million). The project was completed in 2010 and managed by the Rural Boreholes Office (OFOR).

Reaching some of the more remote villages involved complex engineering techniques: pipes had to cross rivers, salt flats, estuaries and mangrove forests. It required 109 km of pipes alone to reach Bassoul island, including 21 km of underwater pipes.

A change of approach increased sustainability

The water distribution network is now maintained by the Hydraulic Works Operating Company (SEOH). In 2015, SEOH was asked to assume responsibility for the network’s maintenance, after problems with the long-term sustainability of the network were identified during project evaluation, caused by skill shortages experience by the Boreholes Water Users Associations.

The change of approach has proven to be a successful one. SEOH has fixed many of the infrastructure problems – leaks, in particular – thereby helping to increase the long-term resilience of the network, as well as reducing water losses from 70% down to 49%.

From sickness to health – thanks to clean water

The village of Sakhor lies deep in the salt-rich Sine-Saloum Delta. The salt is a valuable source of income for many of the 1,350 residents, who gather and sell it, but it  also contaminates the water that they used to collect for drinking, washing and watering their livestock.

“We had to drink the water from wells, and it had to be collected every day,” says Mme Bana Diouf. “It was not good quality, and we had many health problems.”

Salt can cause a range of problems, such as mouth ulcers and hypertension, while parasites and impurities in the water can cause numerous stomach problems, notably diarrhoea.

But since Sakhor received a water pipe, people’s health has improved significantly. “Before the project, more than 50 per cent of patients suffered from diarrhoea,” says Mme Seymabou Sarr Bass, a doctor at the nearby health centre in the town of Fimela. “Now, this has reduced to below 20 per cent.”

Healthy stomachs help children go to school

Drinking clean water improves children’s health, and a reduction in stomach problems, meaning they can eat more regularly and do not lose valuable nutrients through vomiting or diarrhoea. Most importantly, it means they miss fewer days of school.

“Attendance is much better,” says Mr Doudou Sarr, Head Teacher at Bassoul 1 school on Bassoul island, which received a standpipe through the project. “Before, even when they were not sick, [children] would miss lessons when they went to get water from home; now, they simply fill their bottles at the pipe in the playground.”

More time means more money

Mme Hadi Ndong’s life has changed completely since clean water came to Bassoul island. She used to travel for three hours or more by boat every day to collect water; now, she can collect enough from the standpipe in her village to last for 10 days. The time saved is now spent processing shellfish, which she buys from the island’s many fishers and sells for a profit. “I have more time to prepare the fish, and more time to sell in different places,” she says. Her average weekly income has more than doubled, from 20,000 FCFA (US$32) to 50,000 FCFA (US$81).

One house, one pipe

Access to clean, safe water has been a revelation for the people in Fatick and Thies. OFOR, which is responsible for water provision in rural areas, has a vision: “We want every household to have its own connection: one house, one pipe,” says Lansana Sakho, the organization’s director. “This is what people expect.”

The infrastructure installed through the Ndiosmone– Palmarin Water Supply Project provides the backbone for this vision, and further progress is already being made. Several funders have helped to extend the network to even more villages, “People want to participate in an effective and successful project.”

OFOR is exploring potential sites to drill three further boreholes, which will increase the volume of water that can be distributed. Meanwhile, SEOH continues to repair and maintain the network to ensure people have a water supply that they can rely on.

As people in the villages that have benefitted improve their livelihoods, and their children continue to study, the whole region is becoming more resilient and more productive. “This project was more than successful: it has changed people’s lives completely,” says Mr Sakho.

Success factors

A change of approach. Previously, rural boreholes in Senegal were dug close to where people lived. Instead, this project tapped into a large aquifer and connected people through an extensive distribution network – an ambitious, yet now justified approach.

An inclusive process. The project planning process involved local authorities, local people and hydraulic experts, meaning that it was soundly designed and responsive to people’s needs.

Private sector involvement. Hiring SEOH to maintain the water distribution network – one of the first public–private partnerships in Africa’s rural water sector – improved the sustainability of the project compared to the previous approach, under which local people managed the network.

Strong partnerships. The working relationships involved – between OFOR and beneficiaries, and among the funding partners – were effective and efficient.