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Torrential Rainfall Exacerbates Flooding in Senegal's Capital

With more rain comes more flooding in Senegal's capital, Dakar. Just as floodwaters were beginning to subside, heavy rainfall over the past few days have caused water basins to overflow and provoked conflict in flooded neighborhoods. Guédiawaye is one of the most severely flooded areas in Dakar.

In the crowded suburb of Guédiawaye, people carry buckets of water from flooded homes and empty them into the lake a few steps from their front doors. But the lake is not a lake. It is one of several water retention basins built by the government in 2005 to contain floodwaters during the rainy season.

Torrential downpours over the last few days have caused this basin to burst over its banks and flood the nearby neighborhoods.

Dakar's suburbs are dotted with a series of water retention basins and small lakes that follow the water flows and depressions of an area that used to be green wetlands.

Fatou Bintu lives near the water basin. She moved here with her family 20 years ago and built her house on a low-lying piece of land. She says the area was dry then.

Bintu says now the zone is so full of water, there is no alternative but to move. She says she is ready to move elsewhere if the government can help her.

"We do not have the money to buy another house elsewhere, so we are just waiting for the government," she adds.

Bintu is one of more than 260,000 Senegalese affected by this rainy season's flooding.

Senegal's government activated its emergency response plan on August 27 putting $4 million towards pumping excess water from flooded areas and providing relief to flooded households.

But many believe the government is not doing enough.

Bachir Sène is member of a youth group here in Guédiawaye. He says people in the suburbs feel that the government has forgotten them.

"We have been in this situation for years," he said. "Every single resident here has ideas for a solution to this problem. But the government is just there to build monuments and promote themselves. What surprises me, he says, and what makes me angry, is when elections come along, they come here to tells us stories."

Since devastating floods in 2005, Senegal's Ministry of Urbanization and Habitat has been working on removing people from urban flood zones, with an offer of subsidized housing in a site east of Dakar called the Cité Jaxaay.

So far the government has re-housed over 1,600 families and plans to relocate a total of 3,000 families by 2010. For the lucky few, the Cité Jaxaay offers the comfort of a dry two-bedroom house at the price of $35 a month.

But for many, this is too little too late. Dakar's suburbs are home to 1.6 million people and in some areas there are as many as 10,000 people living in one square kilometer.

On 30 August, the suburbs broke out in violent demonstrations against power cuts and urban flooding. In the suburban city of Pikine, people took to the streets, burning tires, blocking roads and attacking government buildings.

Chimere Diallo coordinates the re-location of flood victims to the Cité Jaxaay and manages the water basins sprinkled across Dakar's suburbs. He says the government is responding but that the scale of the disaster is overwhelming.

Diallo says the first phase of the Jaxaay plan to rehouse 3,000 families is certainly a good effort. But it is a small effort given the enormity of the task.

Diallo says efforts to pump water out of flooded neighborhoods into water basins and finally to the sea are complicated by continued rain and opposition from residents. He says people living near the basins disconnect the pipes through which floodwaters are pumped because they are afraid the basin will overflow and flood their homes.

Urbanization experts say the only solution is to move people from flood-prone areas that are not designated housing areas.

But Diallo says moving residents is a very complicated task. He says these families have lived here for decades. So to move to another place, even if it is a better place, is a big task. He says it is difficult to uproot an entire family, so people tend to drag their feet.

Senegal has appealed to the United Nations for assistance in evacuating floodwaters. The International Federation for Red Cross has put out a second flood appeal to raise $2 million for emergency assistance for 25,000 people hardest hit by the continued flooding in Senegal.

Senegal's National Meteorological Agency predicts more rain over the weekend.