Senegal River

Damming the Senegal floods

Plans to control the floods of the Senegal river had been in existence since the 19th century. The Sahelian drought had brought the governments of Mali, Senegal and Mauritania together to create the 'Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Sénégal' (OMVS) and proceed with the construction of two major dams in an attempt to develop irrigated agriculture, hydroelectric power and river navigation.

The first to be completed (1986) was Diama dam. It was built to stop the dry-season intrusion of seawater along the river which could penetrate over 100 km inland. The second dam was a storage dam at Manantali in Mali (completed in 1990) on the Bafing, the main tributary of the river, which supplies approximately 50% of the annual flow. The reservoir is capable of stocking 11 billion m3 of the strong seasonal rainfall on the Fouta Djalon mountains in Guinea. 

Sectoral approach

To date, the entire management approach of OMVS had been strictly sectoral. Although locally and in some sectors , large gains have been achieved, several indicators pointed out that the majority of the stakeholders in the valley did not benefit from the interventions of OMVS. Most inhabitants of the Senegal river basin were dependent on natural productivity of the area, which was closely linked to the extent and duration of the floods. The floods were the basis of a closely-knit set of multiple uses and functions in the Senegal floodplains and delta.

In 1997, OMVS started to collaborate with the World Bank to develop a GEF project for the Senegal river basin. After a series of consultations, a technical programme was elaborated that focused on establishing a viable integrated resource management strategy for water, biodiversity and environment. The programme set for establishing a series of activities at national levels that together formed a cohesive strategy for the entire river basin. However, insufficient attention was given to the need for a wider consultation and participation of all stakeholders towards the implementation of a sustainable management of the Senegal river basin.

Broadening water management goals

To establish an effective stakeholder participation it is essential that the people living in the basin are sufficiently informed about the water resources management policy of OMVS, especially the management of the up-stream Manantali dam. This has much to do with the flood characteristics created by the water releases that largely affect the agricultural, domestic and natural environment. A sustainable basin management needs to incorporate full knowledge of the environmental conditions within the basin. Invasive plant species, seasonally severe pollution and water borne diseases are just some of the aspects that needed to be dealt with.

Engaging with the community

The perception of the people in the basin of these issues was of crucial importance. What were the essential problems they faced? What was the role of water management in creating and solving problems? Impacts of dam releases on fisheries, irrigated land, urban areas as well as nature reserves were known throughout the basin. The goal of the project was the sustainable management of the Senegal river basin based on the full participation of all stakeholders involved.