In a few months’ time, torrential rains that usually cause death and destruction in Senegal will once again descend on this West African nation of 12.9 million people. Therefore, many people are taking precautionary measures.
In the absence of their husband who lives and works in Europe, Aida Diop and her co-wives Fatou Diop and Coumba Diop have started to throw pieces of broken bricks and sandbags all around their family house in the capital Dakar to create some sort of safety belt that could protect their property against the upcoming rains.
Last year, Senegal rains destroyed or damaged over 11 400 houses, and contaminated over 7700 drinking water sources, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
About 20 people were also killed in 2012, and close to 8000 families displaced by floods, according to government figures.
“This is the best we can and the rest will be Allah’s will,” Aida tells Moon of the South, looking at the skies probably seeking some sort of divine protection.
In another area, two sisters painstakingly mix cement and sand to try building a hump around their their ‘tangana’ (township eating place) made in cardboard and wood to protect it from being swept away by the rain.
“Last year it was catastrophic, we came in the morning only to find that the whole edifice was torn down by the rain,” Khadija Ndao tells Moon of the South.
“We couldn’t sell for three days, and we lost income because our customers went to eat somewhere else. But it’s not going to be business as usual this year,” Ramatoulaye Ndao says.
Senegal is vulnerable to droughts, locust invasions, flooding and coastal erosion, the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR) says, adding that flood in urban areas, which is mainly the result of insufficient drainage infrastructure, severely affects the poorest city dwellers.
While suit-clad world delegates continue to battle summit after summit to find ways to enforce climate adaptation and mitigation, for millions of African women like Aida who do not understand the notion of climate change, prevention is better than cure.
Many observers believe women worldwide can play a critical role in the fight against climate change, but they have been excluded and not given a say and enough resources.
The African Statistical Journal (Volume 12, May 2011) published by the African Development Bank (AfDB) said: “Women are on the frontlines of the impact of climate change, but they are poorly equipped to slow change or even make the necessary adaptations.
“Nonetheless, women’s abilities to work with the changing environment are vital to their quality of life and to the survival of their communities.”
The Gender Report published in October 2012 by the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), says: “Increased inequality, exclusion and uneven development are a real danger for all economies.”
The CIF report, prepared by the Global Gender Office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), adds: “Over the last decade, new knowledge has been generated that allowed for a clearer understanding of the linkages between gender and adaptation.
“Understanding this relationship, however, is imperative as gender and mitigation offers a unique platform to move away from the notion that women are victims to an understanding that women are agents of change, capable of significantly strengthening our efforts on climate change.”
However, the report admits that ongoing challenges remain in the implementation of gender within the context of climate change.
Asked why challenges still persist in bringing gender into the mainstream arena of climate change despite a set of recommendations by gender groups and summits such as the COP18 Gender Decision, Nathalie Eddy, coordinator for the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA), tells Moon of the South: “The challenges that persist stem from fundamental pillars of society – law, culture and money.
“As we gain better understanding of these pillars, and raise awareness of the important role women play in effective responses to climate change, we expect to see more change.”
Eddy adds: “As you can appreciate, gender is a cross-cutting element of an effective response to climate change. Accordingly, efforts to mainstream gender into climate policy and practice also need to be cross-cutting and comprehensive.
“The voice of women in many societies remains silenced, as demonstrated by the example you shared.”
Photo by Rick Commisso. Floods in Senegal in September 2012.