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Flooding a Politically-Charged Issue in Senegal

Senegalese singer and Culture Minister Youssou Ndour (C) and Senegalese singer Thione Seck (L) perform at a relief concert for flood victims at Dakar's Grand Theater on September 8, 2012.
Senegalese singer and Culture Minister Youssou Ndour (C) and Senegalese singer Thione Seck (L) perform at a relief concert for flood victims at Dakar's Grand Theater on September 8, 2012.
Flooding has killed at least 200 people and displaced tens of thousands throughout West Africa this year. In Dakar, the government is taking some interesting measures to help flood victims and tackle what has become a politically-charged issue.
Senegalese music icon turned government minister, Youssou N'dour, threw a benefit concert in Dakar for flood victims.
Severe flooding has killed 13 people and displaced at least 5,000 in Senegal this year.
The concert was N'dour's first performance since joining the government in April.
Organizers said it raised about $190,000.
N’dour told the crowd that President Macky Sall says he is “proud” of the help the Senegalese people are giving flood victims and the president will “always be on the side of the people.”
The concert was part of ongoing private fundraisers and government initiatives to deal with what has become an annual emergency in Senegal.
It is a key test for the president, who won a March election promising to be more responsive than his predecessor to social problems like flooding, rising food costs and power cuts.
Mr. Sall cut short a private trip to South Africa in late August after deadly flash floods submerged neighborhoods throughout the capital. Local media reported that a record 156 millimeters of rain fell in just two hours.
President Sall made headlines with a proposal to abolish the Senate and divert the $15 million in savings to flood prevention.
Many say the proposal would kill two birds with one stone as the upper house of parliament is seen as wasteful and undemocratic.
Senegalese political analyst, Ali Ndiaye, says Sall’s proposal has been “popular with the people.”
He says the former president created the Senate as a way to reward political supporters. The majority of the senators are appointed, not elected by the people. He says the money saved by getting rid of the Senate will not be enough to stop the flooding, but the proposal was a chance for Sall to send a clear message about his government’s priorities.
Some neighborhoods in the crowded, low-income suburbs outside Dakar have been underwater for weeks.
In the Guediawaye suburb, volunteers are pumping water out of a retention basin built by the government in previous years.
It has not been enough.
Young men are digging more canals to direct more water toward the basin and out of residential areas. Some of the men are volunteers, while others say they are being paid by the mayor’s office.
Experts say many of the submerged houses in the suburbs are built on low lands and flood-prone areas. Construction of much-needed drainage systems and other infrastructure has not kept pace with rapid urban sprawl over the past generation.
In 2009, the government launched a controversial resettlement initiative, moving thousands of families out to a newly constructed suburb outside Dakar. But the residents who have remained in this neighborhood say more needs to be done.
Guediawaye resident Arame Niane says flooding has been a problem since 2005. She says this year, her family lost everything during the first rain, when water rushed into their house. She says they had to sleep on their terrace. She says her family is now living in a government-sponsored shelter in Dakar, while she stays with a neighbor.
She says she would like the government to help them move, because she does not see any other solution.