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Community-based Action against Flood Risks in Dakar

This case study described how community-based action has been used to address incerasing flood risk in Dakar.
Martina Klimes

Community-based Action against Flood Risks in Dakar

Key Points:

  • Innovative, integrated and communty-based approach which incorporates interventions in infrastructure, policy making and capacity-building to increase resilience to flood events in Dakar.
  • Economic viability is vital to the sustainability of a project, as well as participation and collaboration in the form of knowledge sharing. In order to achieve this strong partnerships need to be developed.
  • Women’s engagement and empowerment is a crucial element in the success of community projects as it provides a platform through which women can act, as well as strengthening the project’s impact.
  • All projects need to be context specific, working with the knowledge, ability and desires of the communities they are invovled with.


This case study is from theFRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book– this link provides a summary of the book, the other case studies and a downloadable pdf.

‘Vivre avec l’eau/ (‘Live with water’) is a partnership under the umbrella of Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED). BRACED (2015a, b) is a funding scheme from the UK Department for International Development (DFID); which supports non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that help to enhance resilience of people facing extreme climate events in selected countries in the Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The ‘Vivre avec l’eau’ project builds resilience to flooding for 860,000 vulnerable people in 10 communes within the 4 departments of the Dakar region. It builds on existing regional and national efforts, by designing a community flood-response plan. The project applies an innovative, integrated and community-based approach which incorporates interventions in three fields:

  • Infrastructure – floodwater evacuation, solid waste management, urban gardening and greening.
  • Policy – district flood contingency plans and national policy advice.
  • Capacity building – training and awareness building for beneficiaries and key stakeholders, special focus on empowering women.

Many flood-affected communities in urban Senegal are distinguished by the high level of community action and self-organisation. There are strong partnerships between the key stakeholders, who are committed to transforming and improving the current situation in flood-affected communities. In Yeumbeul Nord, a commune of Pikine, the community has contributed to the identification of flood-prone locations, and helped to develop both urban management and local contingency plans.

The FRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book contains a variety of case studies which are related to this case study, examining adaptation of infrastructure, settlements and waste management. The related articles can be found here:

Climate risks and other stressors

In Senegal, urban flooding in the rainy season causes major damage to public and private infrastructure, and poses considerable social, economic and health- related risks to the human population, in particular the poorest. Poor drainage systems mean that rainwater floods the whole neighbourhood, paralysing transport and economic activities, and posing health and safety risks due to stagnation and contamination (e.g. increase in water-borne diseases). Common conflicts with regards to how to deal with flooding often arise between households. Some attempts made in the past in Pikine to evacuate flood water have failed even with the help of firefighters.

Adaptation approach

First and foremost, the ‘Vivre avec l’eau’ project builds on its community-based approach. The project was initiated and is continuously driven by activities, experiences and know-how that the communities in Senegal have acquired to deal with the challenges of annual flood-waters. The driving force for an integrated response to urban flooding initially came from representatives from flood-afflicted areas.

The community-based approach entails capacity-building activities such as community workshops (raise awareness for flood prevention techniques such as waste management and recycling), technical workshops (training to ensure successful implementation of infrastructure and flood-resilient urban planning) and policy workshops (ensure learning and best practices are integrated into policy at all government levels). Empowerment, public participation, leadership and knowledge are core issues.

The project focuses on the poorest and most vulnerable people, and the empowerment of women receives special emphasis as women are key actors in effecting lasting change and resilience in many communities. Women are often employed in informal businesses (e.g. doing laundry, selling used clothing), which are vulnerable to disruption from flooding. Therefore, women are especially encouraged to participate in flood resilience building activities and to actively respond in case of emergency.

Secondly, the project incorporates an integrated infrastructure approach. It deploys technological interventions to mitigate the physical effects of flooding whilst also responding to the social and political aspects of the problem. Interrelated flood-prevention practices and technologies are incorporated into training sessions for young people. Waste management practises involve collecting water for use through an innovative urban space-management concept involving urban greening and gardening, converting the damaging floodwaters into a public good. A recycling and waste management programme reduces the amount of waste in the districts, ensuring there is a sustainable source of revenue for members of the community, and ensuring that the infrastructure operates effectively.

Construction of the school wall with ecobrics (bottles filled with solid waste). Credit: CRES.

Thirdly, the integrated infrastructure is based on the special needs of the particular districts. They are addressed through the development of local flood-contingency plans, incorporating the results from topographic and geographic information system (GIS) analyses of the terrain, and the expertise of the local beneficiaries and district stakeholders. As a result, problem areas can be identified in advance, and local community residents can make necessary preparations; chains of responses to flooding can be developed, and responsible contact persons can be identified. Flood-contingency plans will streamline communication between levels of government and the different organisations active in the flood-response field, building on existing flood-response systems in order to make local communities, policy-makers and national emergency-response bodies better able to plan for and respond to urban flooding.

Beyond the project-intervention areas, the use of low-technology solutions combined with training for engineers and urban planners from Senegal and other countries in West Africa will allow the uptake of these integrated infrastructure solutions on a larger scale.

Links to SDGs

Through the construction of resilient drainage infrastructure (SDG 9), the implementation of ‘Vivre avec l’eau’ contributes to a more sustainable city (SDG 11) that combats the impacts of flooding on affected communities (SDG 13). Also, the project puts special emphasis on gender equality through the empowerment of women throughout the project implementation (SDG 5).


Land ownership is a major aspect that can hinder project implementation. When not foreseen and addressed, it is likely to be a source of conflict between the project and the community. It is important that the status of the land where the project activity is implemented is formally clarified.


Results began to be seen in the first year of work. Following very heavy rainfall in 2015 in Dakar, Senegal, which resulted in urban flash flooding in Ben Barak (Yeumbeul Nord, Pikine), the ‘Vivre avec l’eau’ piloted urban flood capture infrastructure had been able to drain the water quickly, while adjacent streets remained flooded several days later.

As a result of the Year 2 activities in Yeumbeul Nord, rainwater evacuation infrastructure has been provided; approximately 90 tons of solid waste has been removed; areas have been embellished with urban furniture made from recycled waste; and communities started urban gardening activities. Women have benefited from capacity-building training and are strongly involved in local management committees.

The project also supported the implementation of income-generating activities related to waste management, compost making and selling, etc. Young people have been trained as resilience champions, and they spread the key resilience messages and practises to their relatives.

Lessons Learnt

Economic viability is an important factor in the sustainability of a project. Community members welcome infrastructure solutions that are economically feasible and profitable because they are easier to organise, own and maintain.

Participation and collaboration in the form of inclusion and sharing of diverse know-how and expertise are crucial. Knowledge sharing can take the form of collaborative expert meetings or participatory community processes. These steps ensure that developed solutions are tailor-made, adapted to both context and recipients. These steps also strengthen financial sustainability (e.g. when community members identify and prioritise feasible approaches to flood prevention, or when professional experts from different disciplines share knowledge) and create innovative solutions.

In relation to this point, the building of strong partnerships is key to allow the participation and integration of the whole range of stakeholders involved in the project, as well as helping solve conflicts more efficiently. The range and number of stakeholders ensures everyone’s needs and capacities are integrated, and builds synergies.

Active empowerment and involvement of women is important. Women’s associations will not only strengthen a project’s impact, but at the same time will ensure both equity and sustainability of the project. They have the potential to increase resilience because they play an important role in the community, and can help to solve issues at the quartier (district) level (e.g. regarding logistics or in case of conflicts between the project’s stakeholders and communities).

Training session for young people in waste management. Credit: CRES.

Finally, context-sensitivity is a key factor for success. Strategies and technologies should be tailored to the respective community situation and conditions. This ensures that these are adapted to people’s needs, and can be sustained after the end of the project. Iterative project planning throughout appraisal, monitoring and evaluation processes helps to cater for the whole project cycle.

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