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Special Report: Senegal - Environment disaster - Doune Baba Diéye in the Gandiole swept from the map

15-Jul-2014

Doune Baba DIEYE, a village in the Gandiole (Northern Senegal) no longer exists. The island has been wiped out by the sea in 2011. This disaster has been caused by a channel that was dug in the year 2003 to spare the city of Saint-Louis that was threatened by River Senegal which peak water level nearly flooded the whole northern city. Today, the village still bears the scars of the evil devastating fury of the waters. Everything has been swept away by the breach which was dug to save St-Louis but eventually erased Doune Baba Dièye. A real environmental problem now arises in the area. And as such, Wetlands International is investing to help the people, in this area, to protect their environment.

It is 9am on this sunny Monday morning of June 2014. We were six (6) people onboard the canoe of Diakhaté, the captain of the boat. After donning life jackets and boots, we leave for the village of Doune Baba Diéye. The weather is good with a fresh wind from the Senegal River. Small fish are barely visible in the water. Some water birds embellish the circumambience. Some are perched on the branches of mangroves, others feed on the river. The scenery is beautiful. The atmosphere is relaxed during the ballad. The roar of the engine disturbs the tranquillity of birds. We cross the villages of Diéle Mbam and Keur Bernard. Thirty minutes later, we arrived in Doune Baba Dièye an island that is now history. An Olympian calm reigns on the site that use to be a traditional village of the famous Gandiole area.

The tragedy hitting the village of Doune Baba Diéye is a very sad occurrence. This island located in the area of ​​Gandiolais, a few miles from Saint-Louis, was swept away by the Atlantic Ocean. The village has been engulfed by the sea one sad day of the year 2011. This misfortune was sparked the channel that was dug in October 2013 to save the tercentenary city of St. Louis which was endangered due to flooding. Ms. Ndéye Fatou Séne, member of the Diéle Mbam women’s group who guided us in this boat ride along this part of the Senegal River with the British journalist and writer, Fred Pearce, still remembers what happened with a touch of bitterness and nostalgia. ''You can see what used to be our house, three years ago. It was just behind the uprooted trees by the waters. We have lived in this island with fishermen. There is nothing left now. The sea has swallowed everything.'' She added that '' In 2011, misfortune struck Doune Baba Diéye. Our native village was carried away by the fury of the ocean. We have lost homes, schools, cemeteries, everything. Other villages in Gandiole were also washed away. It was a terrible shock.''

Today, the island that was native home to grandparents of the late CAF and FIFA Senegalese instructor, Mawade Wade has disappeared from the map of the region of Saint-Louis. Only a few remnants, such as pots and a section of the wall of the village school and what remains of a house, are living proof that there life once existed in a village on the site. Some piles of garbage are visible behind. The sea uprooted trees and left them onshore. The Ocean carted some dead fish and waste material on land. The scenery is picturesque. As visitors, we were left with a ghost site. Apart from the wave’s sound of and the whistling of birds, there is almost nothing else to fill life.

Yet, earlier when the channel was dug, people living near Doune Baba Diéye felt a luring positive impact. '' Just a few days after the breach was opened, we were fishing big fish in the village. Shrimp production was booming. The village lived in opulence and abundance. As women, we bring fish products in Saint-Louis for sale and revenues were substantial enough'' says Ndéye Fatou Séne.

But in 2005, local communities begun to feel the negative effects of what will later become a huge ecological disaster for the area. What sickens the islanders is that they were left to their fate. '' The government has done nothing to help the victims of Doune Baba Diéye. No compensation, no supportive measure from the government which dug the canal that killed the village'' she bluntly said. The displaced victims took refuge in their parent houses in Diéle Mbam and other neighbouring villages like Keur Barka or Mbambara.

The breach saved Saint-Louis from Senegal River flood but created an ecological disaster in the Gandiole

The channel or gap shedding has been dug in October 2003. The purpose was, then, to get rid of water overflow threatening Saint-Louis, the former capital of Senegal and French West Africa (AOF) due to the flooding of the Senegal River. The legendary city, a World Heritage of Unesco, faced severe flooding. The river level was almost overwhelmed prompting an alarming situation. Saint-Louis was virtually exposed to the disaster that has now swallowed Doune Baba Diéye. Some areas of the city were under rainwater. It was the case of the cemetery called Thiaka Ndiaye in “Langue de Barbarie“which was flooded. '' I remember this. It is as if it was yesterday. We wanted to bury a young senior justice official who died in those days, but it was very complicated because there was water all over the cemetery. His grave was flooded. Finally, he was buried with the water,'' says a citizen of Saint-Louis.

It was urgent to react and save this city which is a living symbol of Senegal’s history and the sub-region of West Africa under French colonial rule. Thus, a breach of 04 meters wide was opened to drain water from the river to the Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, much more water flowed under the bridge. Eleven years later, the 4 meters wide channel reached almost 7 km according to a research conducted by scientists from Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis.  It became a real environmental problem in Saint-Louis and its hinterland. As a proof, since the advent of the breach, at least 100 fishermen died while trying to reach this ''artificial embouchure’’. The damages were immeasurable with the destruction of many boats and outboard motors estimated over one hundred million CFA francs, in addition to the lost of fishermen nets.

With the rise of salinity on arable lands, 144 market gardens were abandoned. Furthermore, a drastic reduction of herbaceous cover and a change in the wind direction on the island came as a blow to the livelihoods of the inhabitants of Doune Baba Diéye.

After the opening of the channel in 2003, a second breach was formed in October 2012, due to the lack of conjunction between the combined effects of flooding of the Senegal River and the movement of wave’s effects, as revealed by the research.

However, the most worrying threat was that the channel shifted to the south. This situation has caused many negative consequences for the area of Gandiolais according to the University’s researchers.

After the disappearance of Doune Baba Diéye, Pilot bar, Mouit, Tassinére and Mboumbaye are now seriously threatened. All these villages are under the looming threat of breaking waves. Populations live in psychosis. They fear to experience another nightmare as in Doune Baba Diéye.

History of Doune Baba DIEYE

Doune Baba Diéye is a traditional village. It was founded as back as 400 years. According to some sources, it was created in 1679. It was called BOCOST Island by the colonial masters. With a population of 610 souls, this island depended on livestock, agriculture and fisheries. According to testimonies from displaced indigenous, the inhabitants were mainly engaged in the two first mentioned activities. The area is estimated at 34 km. It is called "Langue de Barbarie." This strip of land is connecting Hydrobase (a district of Saint-Louis) to the embouchure of the Senegal River.

Our sources also added that marine fisheries and inland fisheries (inland) allowed people to survive and operate an abundant shrimp resource. This activity is in itself a significant source of income for all families in the village.

Once rich and prosperous, the village of Doune Baba Diéye suffered the widening effects of the channel. This breach has completely changed the ecosystem and biodiversity of that area in general. It was a Sahelian flora regeneration area with a very diversified fauna composed of some species such as rabbits, Nile monitors, sulcate turtles, marine turtles, red monkeys, birds ...).

Three years after its disappearance, the sons and daughters of Doune Baba Diéye still remember good times in their former village which is now deep in the Atlantic Ocean.

Wetlands International bedside populations Gandiole

The long drought of the years 80 has negative impact in the environment of the area. The ecosystem in a large part of the rural community of Ndièbène Gandiole in the region of Saint-Louis (Northern Senegal) has been patently degraded. Vegetation and mangrove areas suffer serious disruptions due to climate change phenomena with the rising waters of the sea

This formerly rich and prosperous city has now been transformed. The channel dug to fight against the risk flooding of the city of Saint-Louis, is now nearly eleven. Since then, the Gandiole, consisting of 29 villages, is under the direct influence of ocean currents. Worse even, it is subject to the loss of houses, tree populace that acted as a barrier protecting the village and the coastal zone. To this is added a high rate of exodus by people who have lost their properties and livestock.

These reasons among many others, led Wetlands International Africa to intervene in the area since last year.

The organization, in partnership with the Inter-Committee villagers and the Regional Inspectorate for Water and Forests of Saint-Louis, has endeavoured to support Gandiole local communities. Wetlands International Africa works with them in preserving their environment. This conservation program is possible through supplementary measures. Wetlands International has completed training women in oyster farming techniques through exchange visits between Toubacouta oyster farmers in the Saloum Delta River (central Senegal) and AIV women in the Gandiolais. An oyster park is in an experimental phase.

Training sessions including mangrove reforestation techniques are planned for August 2014 for the rehabilitation of degraded mangrove forests.

This area has a high population area of ​​mangrove on the South- East, at the tributary of the Senegal River. However, the species is subject to effects from human action with an abuse on the exploitation of shellfish.

Mangroves provide breeding grounds for fish; waterfowl attract and absorb some of the high sea erosion.

The beneficiaries are aware of the issues.

Communications and Media Coordinator

Pape Diomaye THIARE

Communications and Media Coordinator

Wetlands International Africa

Email: pthiare@wetlands-africa.org

Phone: +221 33 869 16 81

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