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Dakar Plans for Disaster Ahead of Rainy Season

Senegal has put in place a national disaster-response plan in anticipation of severe flooding one month ahead of the rainy season. Last year urban floods displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed thousands of homes in the densely populated Dakar suburbs.

Yacine Thiam points to a spot a third of the way up her living room wall. She says this is where the water rose to last year.

Since heavy rains flooded several Dakar suburbs in 2005 displacing 300,000 people, Thiam and her family have been living under water.

Thiam says the rainy season will be here soon and every day she prays to God for help. The rains normally last for a few months but the water stays longer, she says. It has nowhere to go and everything gets wet. She says they empty the water out themselves with buckets.

All around Thiam's home the skeletons of abandoned houses hold pools of stagnant water and trash. Hardy green typha weeds sprout from empty courtyards and the pathways in between squelch underfoot.

Thiam says every year it is the same thing. In the next few years it will be a disaster. We fill our rooms with sand, she says, to try and get above the water. But this is not a solution. The solution is to go elsewhere. But, she says, the people who are still here are those who have no other option.

The Senegalese government has now put in place a national plan for managing major catastrophes, including the expected flooding in Dakar's suburbs. The plan includes regional action plans and brings together local government, NGOs, and security services in a coordinated response.

Malick Faye is director of Dakar's Regional Technical Bureau and an expert in urbanization. He says the national plan is a first step in the right direction.

Faye says a key mechanism is now in place with this risk-reduction plan. We must start to predict disasters, he says, instead of just dealing with the consequences.

Faye says that the rural exodus is a contributing factor. He says people migrate to the city from the countryside and build houses wherever they can find space. Often these unplanned settlements are in flood-prone areas or wetlands zones unsuitable for housing.

Faye says the solution is to create housing estates and move these people from the area. But this requires a huge amount of money. If you want to move 2,000 families, you will be creating a new town of about 15,000 people with all the services and infrastructure required - electricity, water drainage systems. This is an enormous task.

In response to the 2005 floods, the government launched an emergency housing project called the Plan Jaxaaye. But many families couldn't afford the $8,000 co-pay required for a home.

Yacine Thiam is not waiting for the government. She has built two rooms on the roof of her house and moved all her belongings and her fifteen family members to the roof.

Thiam says the goats live in her old room now. The rains will fall in a month, but there is nothing to do. She says now she leaves everything up to God.