One million cisterns for the Sahel

Ms Mboya Ka, mother of five, who manages the Douli family cistern, explains how her life was before it was established.

© FAO/Eduardo Soteras Jalil


End of April, early morning departure from Dakar with colleagues from FAO and some journalists, to meet with some beneficiaries of the initiative called “1 million cisterns for the Sahel”.

In short, the initiative focuses on putting in place rainwater retention systems in the Sahel where access to water is a challenge: rainfall here is increasingly irregular, accentuating periods of drought in contrast with floods; wells, when they exist, are often far from those who have to use them; and water is expensive. Without water, food security is not possible.

How does it work? The system itself is quite simple. A shed with a zinc roof collects rainwater in a drain connected with two pipes. One of these discharges dirty water from the first rains cleaning the roof of the shed. This water cannot be used for consumption, but is perfectly suitable for irrigation. Once the roof of the shed is clean, the first pipe is closed, while the second is opened and pours rainwater into the cistern and this can be used for consumption.

This system is based on an initiative implemented in Brazil, in semi-arid areas similar to the Sahel region. Some will define this innovative approach as integrated and others as resilient.

After a good three-hour drive, we arrive in the rural community of Thiamène Pass, located in northwestern Senegal, and more precisely, in the village of Douli.

There are about 20 women, all extremely elegant, wearing colourful dresses, their children and grandchildren, and some men. It is hot, very hot – we are in the Sahel. Everyone is patient under the shed with the zinc roof that is an integral part of the system. We start to ask our questions, sitting under the shed – the only shadow area around us, making it a place to socialize.

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