Residents of Saint-Louis, Senegal, a small fishing village, have struggled for years. Climate change, foreign industrial fishing trawlers, and the COVID-19 epidemic have all made it difficult to make a living from the sea.
The community was excited when officials announced in 2015 a new offshore gas project. They hoped it would create new opportunities. Locals claim that the gas project has brought nothing but problems to the area and driven people into desperation. In interviews with The Associated Press, some locals said that the gas has forced women to become prostitutes to support their families.
According to the gas companies, this deal, which is a joint venture between global oil and gas giants BP, Kosmos Energy, and Senegal's and Mauritania’s state-owned companies, will produce around 2.3 millions tons (2.08million metric tons) a year of liquified gas, enough to sustain production for over 20 years.
The government and companies claim they are engaging with fishing communities in Senegal, Mauritania, and trying to benefit wider economies by sourcing locally produced products, developing a workforce, and supporting sustainable developments.
Locals have not seen any benefits yet.
The AP report has some interesting takeaways.
Why do women say they are now turning to prostitution in Saint-Louis?
The Associated Press heard from four women who shared their stories. The women said that they became prostitutes after their husbands - all fishermen - could no longer earn a living because of the gas deal and the rig which restricted access to fishing grounds. All the women said that they knew several women in a similar situation.
Women spoke under condition of anonymity, as their families do not know what they are doing. The women are not registering because they feel ashamed.
Prostitution is more convenient and reliable for them than working at a restaurant or shop, which pays less and can be difficult to find.
They explain that the money is a loan from their friends and family. The women know that prostitution is legal in Senegal, but refuse to register with officials. This would require a health check and an official ID.
They refuse to legitimize the work that they claim was forced on them.
One family of seven hit bottom when they were forced to move. The father, 45-year-old Fisherman, lost his work. The five children aged 2-11 were not fed.
She told the AP that she was forced to prostitution in order to make money. Her shoulders were hunched, and her voice was tired. This she said while sitting in a hotel, away from her husband and friends.
What is the general situation in Saint-Louis?
Saint-Louis, Senegal is the historic fishing center of Senegal. 90% of its 250,000 residents depend on fishing as a source for income.
The town has had many problems over the last decade. Climate change caused sea erosion, which washed homes away. The influx of thousands of industrial trawlers from abroad, some of which were illegal, ate up huge amounts of fish, and the local fishermen in small wooden boats could not compete. The COVID-19 epidemic halted the sale of their tiny catches.
Locals, officials, and advocates all agreed that the rig was the last straw, pushing Saint-Louis to the brink.
In the past, women have made a living by processing fish while men caught it. Sons, husbands, and fathers spent weeks at sea. Families were unable to feed their children and pay rent because of the restrictions.
Some families were forced to withdraw their children from school or transfer them to public schools when the teachers didn't arrive for days.
What are the gas companies saying?
BP and Kosmos Energy say they are working with fishing communities in Senegal, Mauritania.
According to BP, more than 3,000 new jobs have been created in Senegal & Mauritania in 350 local businesses. BP also highlighted its renovation of the maternity unit in the Saint-Louis Hospital and its support for 1,000 patients through a mobile clinic that operated in remote areas.
Thomas Golembeski, spokesman for Kosmos, said in a statement sent to the AP that the project would provide a low-cost source of natural gas, and increase access to affordable, reliable and cleaner energy. He also mentioned access to a Micro-Finance Credit Fund established for the Fishing Community.
BP and Kosmos didn't respond to any questions regarding the women who turned to prostitution. They did not respond to any questions regarding their initial risk assessment. In a 2019 assessment of environmental and social impacts, they acknowledged that there were "a lot of uncertainties" about the effects on Saint-Louis fishermen but still thought the impact intensity was low.
What is the Government saying?
The local government has said that the concerns of the people about the rig have been exaggerated and that the community should be patient at least until production begins, which is expected by the end this year.
Papa Samba Ba is the director of hydrocarbons at Senegal’s Gas and Energy Ministry. He said that by 2035, half of all projects will be allocated to local companies, jobs and services.
The local officials in Saint-Louis have acknowledged a rise in prostitution, but attribute it not to the gas project, but to poverty and economic woes in general.