Residents of Saint-Louis, a small fishing town in Senegal, have been facing challenges for years, including climate change, foreign industrial trawlers, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have made it difficult to earn a living from the water.
In 2015, when a new gas project was announced off the coast, the community was hopeful for new opportunities, but instead, many locals claim that it has brought a wave of problems and pushed people to desperation, including forcing some women to turn to prostitution to support their families, as shared in anonymous interviews with The Associated Press.
According to the women, their husbands, who were fishermen, could no longer make a living after the gas deal came to town and the rig restricted access to fertile fishing areas known as “diattara.” Prostitution is legal in Senegal, but these women do not want to register due to cultural shame. For them, it has become a faster and more reliable means of income compared to low-paying and hard-to-find jobs in shops or restaurants.
The gas project, a partnership among global gas and oil giants BP and Kosmos Energy, and Senegal and Mauritania’s state-owned oil companies, is expected to produce around 2.3 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year. While BP claims to have generated more than 3,000 jobs in local companies and supported various community initiatives, the impact on the local fishing community in Saint-Louis has been detrimental.
Families have struggled to feed their children or pay rent, resulting in some children being pulled out of school or switching to public schools with absent teachers. Questions have been raised about the initial risk assessment of the project and the intensity of its impact on Saint-Louis fishermen, as acknowledged in a 2019 environmental and social impact assessment.
While local officials attribute the increase in prostitution to economic woes and widespread poverty in general, residents of Saint-Louis continue to face challenges due to the gas project, and the local community hopes for more opportunities for local companies and services in the future, as stated by Papa Samba Ba, the director of hydrocarbons for Senegal’s Petroleum and Energy Ministry, who aims for 50% of gas projects to benefit local companies by 2035.