How a Water Project is helping Fight Malaria in the Senegal River Basin

April 24, 2014

World Bank Group

  • While improving water management and food security in Africa’s Sahel region, the Senegal River Basin Project is also helping prevent malaria and other dreaded diseases.
  • As a result of Phase I of the project, 3.1 million long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets—one of most cost-effective ways to decrease illness and death from malaria—were distributed in the area, protecting about 5.6 million people.
  • Phase II of the project aims to reach universal mosquito net coverage in the area, and also to protect 2.1 million people from neglected tropical diseases.

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2014—With the theme  of this year’s World Malaria Day being “Invest in the Future, Defeat Malaria,” there is welcome news out of Africa’s vulnerable Sahel region. Millions of people living in Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal are now being protected from malaria and a number of debilitating neglected tropical diseases. This is the result of better, more coordinated development efforts that cut across different sectors.

While working with these countries to improve water resources management in the Senegal River Basin, the World Bank is also supporting disease control activities associated with water and how it is used to irrigate crops. Irrigation systems are needed to grow more food and fight poverty and hunger, but they can serve as breeding sites for mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Tackling this challenge requires focused efforts across the health and irrigation sectors.   

The distribution of 3.1 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets to cover about 5.6 million people during Phase I of the World Bank-financed Senegal River Basin project has produced striking results. The use of these nets to prevent mosquito bites has increased from 28% in 2009 to 46% in 2012, in an area largely populated by poor farmers and their families.

More pregnant women and young children using mosquito nets

Encouragingly, mosquito net usage has risen in the Senegal River Basin among those most vulnerable to the effects of the deadly disease. The share of young children sleeping under nets has risen from 58% in 2009 to 74% in 2012, while among pregnant women, net usage has doubled, from 33% to 65%, in the same period.

This progress is significant because people living in the Senegal River Basin are highly at risk of malaria.  At any point in time, about 14% of children and 9% of pregnant women in the area are infected with the disease, which takes a heavy toll on poor families. It can badly sicken or kill young children, cause severe anemia in pregnant women, and reduce productivity among working adults.

Illness and death from malaria are expected to fall as these efforts continue through 2020. This is therefore a pragmatic investment in the future not only for the water sector but also for health.

Project targets universal mosquito net coverage

The current US$220 million Senegal River Basin project, which is Phase 2 of a 10-year program in the region, also includes a built-in $40 million health component.

Alongside increasing water availability for agriculture and food production, supporting aquaculture and fisheries management, and other objectives, the project now aims to achieve universal mosquito net coverage. About 4.5 million people living in the area will be covered, most of whom were not covered in Phase I of the project.

“With a growing population in the Senegal River Basin, much of which is already highly vulnerable to water-related diseases, new infrastructure for water and irrigation should be complemented with simultaneous efforts to reduce public health risks,” said Shelley McMillan, Senior Water Resources Specialist and task team leader for the Senegal River Basin project.

Progress in tackling neglected tropical diseases and improving school health

In addition to malaria prevention, the program has also made considerable headway with preventing a group of diseases called the “neglected tropical diseases” (NTDs). These diseases are included under the project as their transmission is also closely related to water or soil.

During Phase I, the project has already administered over 2 million doses of praziquantel tablets to treat bilharzia, and 7 million doses of albendazole to treat intestinal worms. Over 80% of children in the area were protected from bilharzia and worms. 

In Phase II, the program will also tackle onchocerciasis (river blindness) and trachoma, both of which cause blindness, and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis). Going forward, over 2.1 million school-age children and a million adults will receive preventive treatment donated by pharmaceutical companies every year for the NTDs.

" The World Bank has a long and successful track record of working to prevent the neglected tropical diseases, and also of supporting malaria prevention efforts, so it makes a lot of sense to try to tackle these diseases simultaneously "

John Paul Clark

Senior Technical Specialist for communicable diseases at the World Bank


The use of nets to prevent mosquito bites increased from 28% in 2009 to 46% in 2012, in an area largely populated by poor farmers and their families.

Integrated development solutions for the Sahel

In November 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim traveled to the Sahel with other leaders, pledging US$1.5 billion in assistance to the region. Phase II of Senegal River Basin project is the first financing under this initiative.

“We are redoubling our efforts both in the Sahel and elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa to provide integrated solutions across sectors and countries,” said Colin Bruce, World Bank Director for Regional Integration in Africa. “This approach is helping to protect vulnerable people in the Senegal River Basin area from malaria and neglected tropical diseases while simultaneously improving their livelihoods.”