In Dakar, Flood Victims Move to Dry Ground


For the past two weeks, torrential downpours across West Africa have caused widespread flooding, especially in cities. In Senegal's capital, Dakar, flooding is an annual occurence in the city's crowded suburbs where unplanned settlements block water run-off.

After weeks of rainfall, many streets in Dakar's suburbs are not passable.  Roads have become rivers and entire neighborhoods are cut off from transport.

In the Medina Gounass neighborhood, a deep pool of water sits where a neighborhood once stood.

The Sarr family moved here 40 years ago. Demba Sarr lives here with 17 other family members. "For 10 years we have been living in terrible conditions," Sarr says, "living under water. It was really awful."

When the home was built, the area was dry. Now every time it rains, the house sits in a foot of water.

So family members are packing up and moving to dry land. They have been allocated a new house in the cite Jaxaay, a government-built city 25 kilometers east of Dakar.

Neat rows of two-bedroom houses accommodate almost 2,000 families relocated because of the floods. The air is clean and children play in the wide streets. There is electricity in most homes. Running water and sanitation are in place.

Cheikh Mbow is a researcher at Dakar University's Institute for Environmental Sciences. He studies urban flooding.

"There is some space a little bit out of Dakar where we can develop small cities to relocate people," Mbow explains.  "But at the same time you need to put education there, you need to put health care there, you need to develop roads for people to have access to their jobs."

The task is enormous, and progress is slow. Four years after beginning the new cite, just half the planned houses are built while hundreds of thousands of people remain in flood zones.

"We should be thinking in the long term," Mbow adds.  "We should take it piece by piece and invest in very important relocation areas. It is costly but that is the price to pay to solve this problem."

As they see their new house for the first time, the Sarrs are overjoyed. Though there are only two bedrooms for 18 family members, the relief at living on dry land is palpable.

Demba Sarr's sister is pleased she says, "It's pretty and nice. The house is wonderful!"

Storm clouds rumble in the distance, but Demba Sarr smiles. He says he no longer worries about the rain.

But for hundreds of thousands still living in floodwaters, like this woman, every new rain is another disaster.
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