Floodwater Turns Dakar Slum into Swamp

I’ve always liked visiting Pikine, Dakar’s biggest slum.

Senegal flood

In Pikine Est, a suburb of Dakar, Senegal, flooding has displaced thousands. Poor drainage and a high water table make it hard for the land to dry out. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

I have a few friends who live there. And it’s startling to me how generous and hospitable they are given the awful conditions. The heat, the bad roads and the power cuts would drive most people crazy. More than once, I’ve sat dripping wet in a pitch dark living room, chatting about soccer, and trying desperately to act casual. Nobody found the humidity or the dark strange except me.

I try to ignore the clouds of blue exhaust and hold my nose when passing the moldering garbage piled in the street. But what the atmosphere lacks, Pikine’s people make up for: The woman with glowing white teeth sitting in the warm sandy streets braiding her daughter’s hair; her skinny sons glistening with sweat as they kick half-inflated soccer balls in the alleys; and the family goat, chewing on last night’s leftover rice from the family table, content and taking in the scene.

But when I visited Pikine last week, I didn’t see much of this. Or Pikine itself. Much of it was under water. Heavy rains in the last month have turned parts of Pikine into a swimming pool of the worst kind: as warm as saliva, and crawling with insects. Houses are now filled with greenish water covered in algae. Thousands of families have moved out and millions of mosquitoes have moved in. It’s a paradise for them. Acres of warm, still water, seasoned with garbage.

Senegal scene

In Pikine Est, a suburb of Dakar, Senegal, flooding has displaced thousands. Poor drainage and a high water table make it hard for the land to dry out. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

But life goes on. Women hike up their skirts and tip-toe across tires and rubble, trying not to fall into the morass. Men sweat it out, sitting on islands of dry land, guarding their houses from looters. They don’t like wading through the water because giant snakes (some people swear they are boa constrictors) have moved in. At night, they say, the snakes “scream” and make parents pull their children closer.

I talked to one young woman who lives in a house that wasn’t touched by the floods. Like many Senegalese, she has welcomed piles of friends and family into her home. More than 30 people now live in the house. She gently reminded me there was only one toilet, and because of the mosquitoes, they sit under a mosquito net – even during the day.

A CRS team has assessed the damage and found that water pumps are needed, along with plenty of gasoline to run them. Hygiene kits and water purification tablets are also crucial. CRS is preparing to respond to the flooding in the coming days.

For the good people of Pikine, help can’t come fast enough.

– Lane Hartill is CRS regional information officer for Southern and Central Africa.

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One Response to “Floodwater Turns Dakar Slum into Swamp”

  1. Debbie DeVoe Says:

    Thanks for bringing a slum of Dakar into my Manila hotel room. Gentle reminders like the ones you shared make me realize how blessed I am to be able to help support a CRS response instead of be directly affected by the uncomfortable impact of flooding. I hope we are able to find the money needed for the water pumps and other critical responses.

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