DAKAR, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rapid
urbanisation has caused so many problems in the Senegalese town
of Tivaouane-Peulh that the government and aid providers don't
know where to direct their limited resources.
The population of the formerly rural commune near the
capital Dakar has roughly doubled in the last decade to reach
80,000 people. Only 13 percent of residents are connected to the
power grid and 30 percent have running water. People who used to
make their living by farming and herding are out of work.
"There are many challenges linked to urbanisation. I think
it is representative of the issues facing towns in Senegal,"
said Tivaouane-Peulh's mayor Momar Sokhna Diop.
So Diop partnered with a lab at the University of Dakar to
implement a survey process asking citizens what they need most.
Part of the Resilient Africa Network (RAN), the regional lab is
one of four across Africa funded by the U.S. Agency for
The poll found that people value water access above all
else, including transport, waste collection and
income-generating activities. On a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being
"very important", asking the government for more household water
connections was ranked 9.7.
"The problem (of water access) is much more serious than we
had thought," said Mayor Diop at an event in Dakar last week
where he was presented with the results.
Politicians tend to implement projects with quick outcomes
that can help them get re-elected, but these do not always
correspond to the community's long-term needs, he added.
"This (poll) allows us to see if we are on the right track."
The polling method, known as "deliberative", is different
from other kinds of surveys because it allows people to discuss
the policy proposals the poll contains before they vote,
ensuring they are well-informed about all the options.
The technique was developed in the 1980s by Stanford
University professor James Fishkin and has been used all over
the world, but not until recently in sub-Saharan Africa.
RAN has used it in Uganda and Ghana to assess
resilience-building options since 2014.
"People told me it wouldn't work in developing countries,
that the people must be highly educated," Fishkin told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation. "But it does work very well here."
There is an understanding today that development projects
need local support and engagement to be successful, and this is
one way to obtain it, Fishkin said. The method was adapted for
illiterate people using voice and video materials, he added.
In one part of Uganda where the poll was conducted, the
local government had tried to improve education by replacing
small local schools with larger, centralised ones, Fishkin said.
But parents stopped sending their daughters because they were
afraid for their safety on the trip.
"The district officials hadn't even thought of this, but
they heard from the people and decided to reverse the policy,"
WATER OVER FOOD
People in Tamale, Ghana, one of the fastest-growing cities
in West Africa, prioritised clean water and sanitation in a poll
conducted there in 2015 by the same lab.
Tamale residents faced a trade-off. With people suffering
from both food insecurity and disease, they had to decide
whether to use untreated wastewater for farming to grow more
crops, or prohibit it to protect public health.
They voted overwhelmingly to ban the use of wastewater for
farming, and were strongly in favour of other disease control
methods such as handwashing campaigns in schools.
"This showed that non-literate populations, when provided
with the right information and right conditions for discussing
an issue... (can) make well-grounded and informed decisions,"
said Dennis Chirawurah, director of the West Africa lab.
But persuading government agencies to adapt their policies
in line with the poll remains a challenge, Chirawurah said.
Mayor Diop said he was deeply affected by the results and
was in discussions with the ministry of sanitation and the state
water utility to improve the water situation, although lack of
money remains the primary obstacle.
In the meantime, he plans to work on putting outdoor water
fountains in neighbourhoods with no household plumbing.
"After the poll, we identify pathways to building
resilience," said Chirawurah. "Then we put out the call for
(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.