Current Articles | Search | Syndication

Green infrastructure to fight increasing water scarcity in Senegal


Saint Louis, Senegal - Wetlands International is joining forces with the Senegal River Basin Authority to identify the many important services that wetlands provide to people and nature in the Senegal River Basin. In order to meet the growing water needs in the increasingly arid Sahel of West Africa, this partnership will identify how natural ‘green’ infrastructure wetlands including seasonal floodplains, swamps and lakes can be used to support more sustainable livelihoods for people in the four countries of the basin (Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal) while adapting to climate change and protecting nature.

Following an inter-sectoral stakeholder dialogue on water, wetlands and development, Wetlands International and the Senegal River Basin Authority – known as the Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du fleuve Senegal (OMVS) – building on their partnership, agreed to cooperate on ‘green’ infrastructure. Wetlands International will help OMVS to bring together a knowledge base to identify the many ecosystem services wetlands provide in the basin (see below for more detail on ecosystem services). OMVS will utilise its expertise to map where these values exist in the basin.

The stakeholder forum in Saint Louis, Senegal was attended by 70 representatives from government, universities, civil society groups and business, including biofuels company Senethanol. To capitalise on the momentum it created to restore wetlands in the Basin, the initial activities of Wetlands International and OMVS will take place in the next six to nine months. The results will then be used during future stakeholder discussions and lead to decisions that bring life back to the wetlands of the Delta and share water resources more fairly.

Such an approach – in such a large river basin – has the potential to serve as a leading example of how to better manage scarce water resources, develop sustainably and adapt to climate change. If promoted by the governments, investment could be attracted to restore wetlands as “natural infrastructure” across the landscape on a grand scale in the four countries of the river basin – Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal.

Urgency to act on behalf of green infrastructure

Wetlands International brought a team of global experts (its governing Supervisory Council) from the business sector, universities and governments, highlighting the international significance of these issues. At the stakeholder forum, we highlighted the role of wetlands in the Basin in regulating water and contributing to human health, livelihoods and a sustainable economy. Many other voices spoke in favour of better integrating natural infrastructure into planning and development. The Mayor of Saint Louis made an impassioned plea for more assistance to restore the mangroves in the estuary to protect the city from floods and salt water intrusion. The president of a Rural Council from an affected area near the Ndiael Reserve cited problems of access to fresh water for drinking and farming and increasing water-related diseases. There were also calls for the development of “green businesses” for example harvesting the invasive aquatic plant Typha to make saleable products or energy.

Improving water allocation decisions across the Senegal River Basin

Competition for water, diversions and a reliance on built infrastructure such as dams is currently degrading wetlands in the Basin. Some formerly productive wetlands have dried out entirely, while others suffer from management decisions that fail to consider their true value.

The impact of the Diama dam on the river delta and specifically the Djoudj National Park is illustrative of the challenges. Located 27 kilometres upstream of Saint Louis, the dam was built in 1988 and has cut off the saltwater flow while raising freshwater levels upstream, with the aim of making the river navigable, improving agricultural potential and securing drinking water. Across the delta this has stimulated widespread colonisation by Typha reeds that has stymied agricultural potential and local community livelihoods. Internationally important natural areas such as Djoudj, wetland areas that formerly relied on the ebb and flow of the tide to maintain the lake systems, are now suffering from stagnation and a proliferation of freshwater aquatic invasive species. It is a struggle to maintain the lake systems so important for the massive colony of pelicans and other diving birds for which it is internationally famous.

In the Ndiael Reserve the plan to produce biofuels within the outer buffer zone – especially without assessing the environmental impacts in the Basin – also raises significant concerns for the livelihoods of the 32 communities living around it. By mapping the values provided by wetlands and convening stakeholders, better water allocation decisions can be made across the Basin. We are seeking a dialogue to pursue solutions to water and wetland conflicts by incorporating the value of natural infrastructure into decision making.

Wetlands support people locally and globally, not just nature

The water scarcity issues in the Senegal River Basin are illustrative of the global challenges related to water, food and energy security. Wetlands around the world are on the front line of development – being degraded and losing the many services they provide. As a result, traditional livelihoods are being lost and resilience to disasters such as floods and droughts is decreasing. Furthermore in a wider sense the sustainability of the economy that depends on green infrastructure is also under threat.

The Senegal River Delta is internationally recognised for its wetlands and their value to nature, but they provide many goods and services directly to people. These wetlands protect far more than nature, providing food and water security and contributing to human well-being and health through their provisioning (fisheries and agriculture), and regulating (drinking water, water storage and flood prevention) services.

More information:

Read more about the Senegal Delta in CEO Jane Madgwick’s blog


Dr. Chris Baker
Head of Programme and Strategy - Wetlands & Water Resources
Chris.baker @

Pape Diomaye THIARE
Communications Officer and Media Coordinator
Wetlands International Africa
pthiare @

Press contact

Communications and Advocacy Department