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Senegalese gear up for likely flooding

Momar Ndiaye reinforces the outer wall on a house in Pikine in preparation of the coming rains Jennifer Lazuta/IRIN
Senegalese authorities and aid organizations say they have begun preparing for what will likely be another round of heavy flooding during this year's upcoming rainy season, but observers and local residents say not enough has been done to reduce the risk of annual floods ruining their homes.

Experts from the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) said that countries in the western Sahel zone will likely experience above-average rainfall between July and September this year, and Senegal could experience flash flooding.

Many residents of Dakar and its suburbs - particularly the neighbourhoods of Pikine, Guediawaye and Keur Maseur, which are built on low-lying coastal wetlands - are likely to face flooding this year. These neighbourhoods were built up in the 1970s, and their populations have since exploded. High water tables, inadequate drainage systems and over-population mean that even small amounts of rain can flood entire neighbourhoods.

According to Ndeye Diallo, who has a house in Keur Maseur, the homes of many families living there are still flooded from the 2012 rains. "The rains never receded," she said.

Ndeye Touré, 47, who lives in Pikine, one of the worst-hit areas, said she and her neighbours have been promised help, but it never arrives. "For more than three months, we must live with water in our homes and the streets. Sometimes it comes up to your knees. The floods destroy our homes. Every year, the authorities promise to build us a canal to drain the water, but so far nothing has been done."

Action taken

The Senegalese government has undertaken several flood action plans over the years. Following heavy flooding in 2005, it implemented Plan Jaxaay, which re-housed 1,700 flood-hit families, according to the government's website.

Four reservoirs were built in the suburbs to try to drain water from the area, and four more were planned by the Ministry of Urban Planning for Dakar. But residents of Pikine, the site of one of the reservoirs, said while it has lessened the impact of the flooding, it overflows every year, and because canals are blocked, flood-water cannot even reach it.

Clearing drainage systems has been the priority of the September 2012 urban development plan, known as the Rainwater Management and Adaption to Climate Change Project (PROGEP), which was launched in partnership the World Bank. Under this ambitious project, the government says it will invest US$1.4billion dollars over the course of 10 years in flood management projects, with $132 million allocated for 2013.

Amadou Fall Diop, director of the Project for Social Housing and the Fight Against Slums in the recently created Ministry of Restructuring and Management of Flood Zones, said that since September 2012, they have been focusing on short-term flood preparation, including clearing draining systems, ensuring pumping stations are working, and moving some families. They will engage in several long-term projects, including building more reservoirs and canals, over coming years, he said.

"We are doing as much as we can given our resources, and so we are asking the people that are impatient - that have reason to be impatient - to trust that we will find a solution to these floods," he said. "Our plans are now underway."


Most of the drainage canals criss-crossing Dakar and its environs are filled with rubbish, an environmental and sanitary hazard. The Ministry of Flood Zones Management is trying to clear trash from these canals in Dakar, and in the towns of Bambey and Touba, so rainwater can pass unobstructed, said Diop. His ministry is also pre-emptively pumping groundwater from several neighbourhoods so the rain has a chance to absorb into the ground.

It also plans to relocate 2,000 families living in high-risk areas, with the first relocation scheduled for 30 June, he said.

The problem is that as families are re-housed, others just move in to take their place, said one observer. The government issued a ban on construction in wetland zones in 1967, but it has largely been ignored.

Emergency preparation

In the meantime, aid organizations are gearing up to help mitigate flood risks.

The head of operations for Senegal's Red Cross, Ibrahima Liye Thiome, told IRIN the organization is trying to teach communities about the importance of proper hygiene and how to prevent water-borne diseases during the rainy season.

"The government has put a lot of money into flood solutions, and this is good," Thiome said. "But it isn't a perfect solution. They talk about putting in canals and whatnot, but they forget about the people. The solution is not just to take out the waste [from drains]; it's to build the resilience of the population," he said.

The Senegalese Red Cross and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) have been stocking up and pre-positioning emergency response supplies and hygiene kits to distribute when floods occur. Between them, these include jerry cans, soap, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, water-treatment chemicals and information cards on good hygiene practices.

Amal Saeed, a humanitarian affairs officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN the inter-agency humanitarian country team is starting to prepare with the Senegalese government. The Department of Civil Protection will hold a flood preparation meeting with UN and NGO partners in mid-June.

Meanwhile, families themselves are doing what they can to get ready.

"We've been buying bags of sand [to reinforce the perimeter of the house], and we're rebuilding the walls of the house," said Kadou Kede, who has lived in Pikine since 1977. "Every year, we must now strengthen the bricks before the rains come, so that our homes don't collapse," he said.

Ibrahima Ba, the chief of the Mounas neighbourhood in Pikine, said local authorities have been helping a bit. They have checked to ensure water pumps are working and that health clinics have adequate medicine stocks and have been passing along early warning messages, he said.

But these are not always possible to heed: "The government has been sending agents here to ask people to leave before the floods come, but most [of us] cannot afford to leave. We have told them [the government] that what we need is a canal and a better water [retention] basin, but just until this moment now, they have done nothing," he said. "What else can we do? When the rains come, we will still be waiting."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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