Gambia: Bridge over dangerous waters builds resilience and improves access to healthcare

Gambia: Bridge over dangerous waters builds resilience and improves access to healthcare

Gambia: Bridge over dangerous waters builds resilience and improves access to healthcare

Gambia: Bridge over dangerous waters builds resilience and improves access to healthcare

In rural Gambia, young mother Sarata Ceesay, no longer has to wade through water where crocodiles like to gather to attend her ante-natal checks ups, thanks to the construction of a new climate-resilient culvert, or small bridge. The structure, which Mrs Ceesay helped to build through a Cash for Work project, ensures health services are easily and safely accessible, whatever the weather – and, for Mrs Ceesay, could guard against the horror of another infant death.

After losing one of her infant twins, Mrs Ceesay gets very concerned when her surviving two-year old girl, Awa, falls ill. She remembers a time when Awa awoke in the night crying due to a skin infection. Worried, Mrs Ceesay picked up the child and put her on her back and headed out on foot to the nearest health centre.

Unseasonal rains had caused the land between her home and clinic to flood. Mrs Ceesay fearfully waded through the water, unsure whether she was more frightened of falling on a rock or coming across one of the crocodiles known to lurk by the swollen river bank.

“When I carried my baby to the clinic, the water was up to my knees. It was very slippery – I was scared I could fall. I had to avoid the stagnant water as there are reptiles there,” said Mrs Ceesay, who is 23.

With the construction of the new culvert, which Mrs Ceesay took part in building, she’s confident that reaching the clinic won’t be such an ordeal should her new baby, or Awa, fall ill in the future. “It’s going to be very easy if it happens again,” she said.

During community consultations, residents, including Mrs Ceesay, were asked how climate change is impacting their daily lives and what could be done to make their community more resilient. The answer was clear; they wanted a reliable mean of accessing services by foot passengers, horse-carts and cars alike – even during the height of the rainy season. The LoCAL grant provided the funds to get to work.

The small-scale infrastructure project is part of the Jobs Skills and Finance Programme for Women and Youth in The Gambia, funded by the European Union and implemented by the UN Capital Development Fund and International Trade Centre. The JSF Programme, which officially wraps up this year, includes a focus on locally led adaptation with funds channelled to local government authorities using the LoCAL mechanism’s Performance Based Climate Resilience Grants.

The construction project provided a valuable boost in incomes in a region beset by poverty as well as lasting resource that is bolstering the community’s resilience to climate change. Annual rainfall patterns are increasingly unreliable across The Gambia, and much of West Africa, and in Pakali Ba this meant that some routes to basic services were unusable during sudden and heavy spells of rain.

For Mrs Ceesay, and her neighbours, this effectively turned a 5km walk into a much longer circuitous journey requiring a taxi, if she could afford it (she never could) or perch atop a horse or donkey-drawn cart with no shelter from the sun or rain. Ensuring that residents are able to access the clinic on foot goes a long way to ensuring that families seek any health treatment at all, according to local health professionals.

“People are very poor,” said Community Health Nurse Buba Jobe, explaining that the 25 Dalasi, or 0.42 US cents, he has to charge for a consultation and any treatment administered at the clinic is unaffordable for many families. “The fee is not enough for the government [to cover the costs of the consultation], but it’s still too much for people to pay,” he said.

Under five-year olds and pregnant women are entitled to free healthcare and Mr Jobe has seen infant mortality drop off significantly during his decade at the Pakali Ba clinic. Nonetheless, preventable illness related to bad sanitation and poor diets, such as anaemia, diarrhoea worms, remain a persistent problem.

“It’s not easy to have a balance diet,” said Mr Bouba. “People here eat mostly rice – [as more expensive] proteins and vegetables are in short supply.”

Pakali Ba lies in Mansakonko Area Council where Landing B Sanneh is Chairman, or Mayor. Mr Sanneh officially opened the culvert on its completion. He says LoCAL’s approach to realising adaptation to climate change at the local level is “a matter of survival”.

“We need innovative financing solutions and interventions that can look to address the local and regional impacts of climate change,” said Mr Sanneh, who visited the site at Pakali Ba during construction. “And that requires capacity building and investment and engagement with local communities – and that is where LoCAL comes into play.”

Mrs Ceesay is one of the 21 women in the 10,000-strong community of Pakali Ba that took part in a Cash for Work project funded via a LoCAL grant. Like other LoCAL investments in the country, activities focused on small-scale construction projects, in this instance a culvert to improve access to basic services across the region. Pakali Ba lies close to the Gambia River, and during periods of heavy rain, fast moving stretches of water channel the rains to the river and out to the Atlantic Ocean some 200km to the west.

The waterways bisect the community, cutting Mrs Ceesay and her neighbours off from health services. Communities on the other side of the waterway were unable to access the weekly markets that provided an opportunity to trade and boost household incomes, while children in some parts of the community couldn’t access school.

Using this approach, Pakali Ba now has two new culverts, which are a source of pride for the 40 men and women who worked side by side, carrying water, mixing cement and moving rocks and earth to build the culverts. Non-skilled labourers like Mrs Ceesay earned 350 Gambian Dalasi a day or almost US$6 dollars providing a significant injection of cash in to her household’s savings.

“I was happy to take part. My name is in the history book,” said Mrs Ceesay, her daughter standing at her side as she expresses her pride in contributing to finding a solution to her communities problems. “Whatever comes [to pass] in the community, it us that is deciding what do and we have a role to play.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).