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Dakar suburbs strive to turn floodwaters from foe to friend

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 27 October 2016 10:23 GMT

Community members in Béne Barack neighbourhood, in the eastern suburbs of Dakar, Senegal, clean up floodwater storage basins installed to help reduce flood risk. Photo: CRES

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Improving drainage, storing the water, then harnessing the community to keep things working is reducing flood risks in Senegal

By Megan Rowling

YEUMBEUL NORD, Senegal, Oct 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Balla Fall, the newly elected chairman of a neighbourhood committee managing a project to protect residents from flooding, had a big job ahead of him: mobilising local people to clean up drainage reservoirs clogged with rubbish and tall grass.

But the builder in his early 40s was confident. "Every time there is a need, there's a good turnout," he said on the afternoon the committee met to plan the operation.

For a week in late September, around 35 inhabitants of Béne Barack neighbourhood helped clear 17 tonnes of rubbish from several basins.

Now the water can flow properly again, security has improved around the basin edges - they had had been a risky place to walk at night - and there's less risk of disease from dirty water, according to the Dakar-based Consortium for Social and Economic Research (CRES), which is leading the project.

Involving the community is central to an urban flood management project called "Live with Water" (Vivre avec l'Eau), funded by the British government. It aims to benefit some 920,000 people, mainly in the eastern suburbs of Dakar.

"They play a hands-on role in improving their environment," said Nafissatou Baldé, project manager at CRES.

The project aims to prevent flooding of houses, shops and streets during the rainy season by putting in drainage infrastructure, while using the evacuated water for activities such as cultivating herb gardens on the basins' banks.

"The goal is that the water becomes a friend rather than an enemy," Baldé said.

When properly managed, annual rainy season deluges should no longer damage people's assets or force them out of their homes, she added.

Neighbourhood representative Mamadou Ndiaye points out an overgrown floodwater retention basin in the eastern suburbs of Dakar, Senegal. TRF/Megan Rowling


Yeumbeul Nord, a municipality on the eastern outskirts of Dakar, is no stranger to flooding. When seasonal floods hit in 2005, half its 82 neighbourhoods were affected. But 10 years later, only 12 were flooded, thanks to the combined efforts of the government, municipal authorities and development groups, local officials said.

As growing numbers of people have migrated from rural parts of Senegal into this low-lying district bordering the sea, homes have been built in flood-prone areas, putting them at risk.

But Mayor Daouda Ndiaye said close to 525 families have now been relocated from the most dangerous zones. The main problem now is protecting roads from flooding in some 20 neighbourhoods, he added.

"We don't have much money to deal with floods," he said, although the town hall does its best to deploy vans and motorised pumps whenever there is heavy rain. "I think the sustainable solution is to equip the roads with drains and gravity systems."

Béne Barack's main street, Thomas Sankara, which has a market running along one side, benefited from new drainage and road paving in the pilot phase of the Live with Water project, which began in 2014.

It is part of a major UK-backed programme to build resilience to climate extremes and disasters in 13 countries in Africa and Asia, known as BRACED.


In Béne Barack, the project has also trained local youths to make "eco-bricks" from recycled plastic trash and uses those and old tyres to make walls and public benches.

Arranged around one of these circular seats, in the welcome shade of a tree on Thomas Sankara Street, a group of women ply their wares - from eggs to shiny sandals.

They find it much easier to conduct their business now they have a place to set up their stalls, out of the sun on hot days and away from the threat of floods when it rains, they said.

Drainage work is due to start next month on the next street over, whose sandy surface is carved with potholes and grooves from the rainy season.

The project's progress has proved a little bumpy, according to neighbourhood representative Mamadou Ndiaye and CRES's Baldé.

It had to be put on hold for several months while coordination problems were sorted out with some partners, Baldé said. But the governance issues have now been resolved, and the project has restarted, she added.

Plans are back on track to roll out the flood management scheme by the end of 2017 in 10 municipalities, instead of 12 as originally planned.

A view of overgrown floodwater retention basins in the Béne Barack neighbourhood, in the eastern suburbs of Senegal, before a community-organised cleanup. TRF/Megan Rowling


But the project's initial hurdles had some negative effects for local people.

Rubbish started to accumulate in the water storage basins, which were invaded by "typha" grass growing several metres high. That impeded water circulation and made the area unsafe in the dark.

Without adequate protection from foraging animals and weeds, small garden plots of mint and vetiver planted by local women around the basins have suffered.

"It is the maintenance of the basins that is a problem for us," said community representative Ndiaye, adding that the government - which built the basins - had promised to be responsible for their upkeep.

Improvements need to be made before the street drainage works exactly as it should, and there are calls to fence off the basins to make them safer places for children playing and going to school nearby, he added.

But with the project now back on its feet, there are hopes that floods will cease to pose a menace to daily life in these crowded, vulnerable suburbs.

"It is a contribution to resolving this problem," said Baldé.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Zoe Tabary and Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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