GOOD

A Flood of Good Intentions in Senegal

Local architects and engineers devised a way to use destructive coastal rains to water gardens and reservoirs.

Flooding in Dakar, Senegal. Photo by MyriamLouviot via Wikimedia Commons

Every year, torrential floods thrash the coastal towns of Senegal. The waters have grown increasingly erratic and disastrous since the 1970s for a host of reasons. In bad years (like 2009) they’ve caused over $100 million in damages to the capital of Dakar alone, affecting hundreds of thousands of people with property damages, waterborne diseases, and dislocation. Although Senegal has a better track record than many of its neighbors in terms of infrastructure and government works, local authorities still scramble to respond to these deluges, assembling ad hoc parties to dig emergency canals and raising last-minute funds. Yet while officials and aid workers struggle year after year to dry out waterlogged towns, a group of local architects have devised a way to turn their floodwaters into an asset, channeling them into beautifying, moneymaking communal gardens, and greening up areas that are ironically parched for the bulk of the year.

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The Crustacean Cure for one of the World’s Worst Parasites

Schistosomiasis is one of the most debilitating tropical diseases, but it can be combatted with the help of a few million prawns

The noble prawn

Schistosomiasis, a.k.a. bilharzia or blood fluke, is a particularly nasty affliction. Stemming from the presence of a parasite in the blood, the illness is one of the world’s 17 neglected tropical diseases. Active mostly in Africa but also in swaths of Asia and Latin America, it afflicts 230 million people every year, killing more than 200,000. Days or months after the waterborne parasites enter one’s body (ironically, the water is still potable—it’s just contact with the skin that allows parasitic transmission), those afflicted develop an itchy rash, fever, chills, coughs, and debilitating aches with no warning. And repeated infections—which are quite common, especially among youth—can lead to lifelong anemia, learning disorders, malnutrition, organ damage, and even seizures, due to spinal inflammation as the body reacts to the presence of blood fluke eggs in its system. In terms of its prevalence and long-term effects, the disease is second in its debilitating capacity to malaria, possibly the most deadly disease in human history. Traditionally, treatment options have been relatively ineffective and quite expensive. But recently, in at least one hard-hit region, a project has developed with potential to totally eliminate schistosomiasis from local communities, while creating sustainable agriculture—all through the clever use of prawns.

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I met Walshy Fire a few months ago in the parking lot of the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. His band, Major Lazer, was in town to perform at the Cradle that evening, and soundcheck was just wrapping up when he emerged, with a smile, from the tour bus.

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Three weeks ago, courts in Senegal ruled that Muslim holy men were no longer allowed to enlist children to beg on their behalf. According to The New York Times, flocks of ragged young boys, known as "talibes," have traditionally spent many hours a day walking barefoot through busy streets, holding tin cans and begging for change—which they deliver to the holy men, or "marabouts."

[Talibes] could be seen in every neighborhood of this Muslim West African metropolis. Ostensibly students in schools where the Koran is taught, the boys often leave these makeshift establishments knowing little of the Muslim sacred texts, according to Human Rights Watch, which estimates that there are as many as 50,000 on the streets of Senegal.

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