« Dakar: Clean City », the Mayor commits to ensure universal access to sanitation for the population

Interview • 29 May 2019

Local elected authorities in Africa are resolutely committed to playing their full role in ensuring universal access to sanitation for their populations. It is in the image of the municipality of Dakar, which distinguishes itself by the initiative « Dakar, Clean City. » The city’s Mayor, Ms. Soham El Wardini, the first woman to become Mayor of Dakar, pleads for the full involvement of mayors in the definition and implementation of equitable sanitation strategy.

Your Honor, during the AfricaSan Conference in Cape Town, 30 African local elected representatives reiterated their commitment to designing and implementing equitable sanitation strategies for their constituents. What do you think about this action?

Allow me to begin by thanking the Speak Up Africa NGO for making it possible for us to participate in this important meeting. I must say that the action of the elected representatives at the AfricaSan Conference in Cape Town was a powerful gesture. Local elected representatives are the emissaries of the grassroots population, and it is their duty to put innovative and inclusive strategies into place to provide their constituents with access to equitable sanitation. As you know, the rate of access to decent sanitation is relatively low. It is therefore urgent for our local elected representatives in Africa to take initiatives to help the people, who are the foremost victims of public policy deficiencies.

In your view, what are the criteria for an equitable sanitation strategy?

First of all, an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework should be set in place, defining the roles of the different actors in the sanitation sector and placing territorial collectivities at the heart of the mechanism. The government should provide sustainable financing for the sanitation sector and capacity building for territorial collectivities on the management and maintenance of facilities and the supervision and management of sanitation works. For a truly participatory policy, it is important not to overlook the role of local actors, technical and financial partners and NGOs active in the area of sanitation.
These prerequisites will make it possible to propose technical solutions tailored to the areas where sanitation needs to be installed and to share best practices in sanitation, while stressing the need for behavior change in the grassroots population through a strong education, information and awareness policy.

Local elected representatives have a major role to play in overcoming challenges linked to sanitation. How do you think the local authorities can succeed where Governments have failed, despite their limited resources?

Allow me to begin by pointing out that the responsibility for sanitation has not been transferred to the municipalities in Senegal.
However, it cannot be ignored that the municipalities are closer to the grassroots population. The people of Dakar constantly ask the City Council to help them with sanitation issues.
Because of this, the government should take all necessary steps to ensure the effective transfer of sanitation responsibilities and resources to territorial collectivities. Senegal would do well to transfer the management, upkeep and maintenance of sanitation facilities to its municipalities, while providing full support and empowering them to effectively and efficiently handle all matters relating to sanitation.

What are the issues pertaining to (liquid) sanitation in the city of Dakar?

There are many. The waste water network, which is largely dilapidated and obsolete, is frequently obstructed. Its condition varies in different geographic sectors of the city.
The total amount of waste water released daily by the ONAS network in the Dakar region is very high, and much of it is released into the sea untreated.
Overall, the network suffers from deficiencies in terms of policy and regular maintenance practices. It is constantly full of rubbish and solid objects that create obstructions making it difficult for the effluents to flow to their proper outlets, and causing them to overflow the sewer system and pollute the natural environment. It is very common to see waste water in certain streets of the capital, essentially due to failures of the sewer network.
The storm water network is more difficult to control due to silting and illegal hookups. Many large storm water collection systems have been turned into sewers due to illegal sewerage hookups or to direct dumping of trash in open canals.
Further difficulties are caused by the fact that Dakar contains areas where no sewers can be installed due to the nature of the soil and the type of constructions. Alternatives should be proposed, such as semi-collective sanitation and/or on-site sanitation to help the citizens.

How is the municipality of Dakar involved in the sector despite the fact that sanitation is not under its purview?

Law No. 2013-10 of December 28, 2013 on the general code governing local authorities, also known as Act III of decentralization, grants broad areas of jurisdiction to territorial collectivities with regard to the management of the urban environment and housing conditions. However, it is not very explicit about local jurisdiction over water and sanitation.
Despite all the problems, mostly relating to access to funding, the City of Dakar has provided considerable support for the people, particularly during the rainy season and the period leading up to it, particularly by dredging major canals and septic tanks in neighborhoods without sewer systems.
We have also initiated the “Clean Dakar” project aimed at making our capital one of the cleanest cities in Africa.
The project is aimed at improving living conditions for the people, and we cannot talk about living conditions without addressing access to high-quality, equitable sanitation systems.

What policies and strategies currently govern sanitation at the municipal level?

Providing people with access to sanitation is a centralized responsibility in Senegal’s government institutions, contrary to certain countries in the North and even in Africa, where local authorities handle the sector themselves. Because of that situation, it is currently quite difficult for us to intervene in sanitation policy and strategy implementation.
However, we do make sure that sanitation networks are included in all our urban road projects and covered by their budgets, in addition to all the other initiatives undertaken by the City of Dakar to ensure better living conditions for the people.

What priority do you place on hygiene and sanitation awareness and education for behavior change?

It is the first step in every actions undertaken for the people. Any undertaking aimed at improving the living conditions of the people needs to start with an awareness campaign. It is also important to educate the people on good hygiene practices. Lack of sanitation can cause numerous diseases. It is therefore important for the public authorities responsible for those issues to work with territorial collectivities to meet the challenge of raising awareness about cleanliness and educating the people about hygiene to effect real behavior change and improve living conditions.

In your opinion, what role do women have in the sanitation sector?

Women have a very important role that must not be overlooked. If you remember, when I was elected to the head of the Municipal Council of the City of Dakar, I launched a strong appeal to women, as mothers, educators, trainers and proven leaders, so that together we could restore Dakar to its former glory. It breaks my heart to hear that Dakar is one of the dirtiest cities in the world. It is my conviction that we can never improve our living conditions unless women are at the forefront of the movement.

What messages would you like to send the authorities for better management of sanitation issues?

Above and beyond what has already been said, we call on the authorities to support territorial collectivities through capacity building but also by providing technical and financial resources. The special status of the City of Dakar, as the nation’s capital, demands that we work more effectively to put participatory and inclusive strategies into place to resolve our sanitation issues. It is our duty to ensure that the City of Dakar joins the ranks of the cleanest cities in the world. This can only be achieved by working hand in hand in the sole interest of our citizens.

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