Cablegate: Rains Cause Flooding in Dakar's Suburbs

DE RUEHDK #1285/01 3111705
P 061705Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Rains Cause Flooding in Dakar's Suburbs

DAKAR 00001285 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: Severe rainfall from June through late September
2008 destroyed hundreds of homes, leaving thousands of people
homeless or displaced in the highly populated Dakar suburbs of
Pikine, Thiaroye, Guediawaye, Medina Gounass, Diamaguene, Dalifort,
and Yeumbeul. As a result of flash floods, illegal construction and
poor urban planning many families have abandoned their houses for
shelters built on school grounds causing the government to delay the
opening of the school year in some districts. The outcome of the
government's emergency rescue plan "Plan ORSEC" were mixed and today
many families continue to remain exposed to life threatening
diseases, lack of access to sanitation and are experiencing critical
water problems. In contrast, relief programs from donor countries
such as France and China were well received by the population. End


2. (SBU) In early June unusually heavy rainfall began in the Dakar
area and lasted well into September. These rains caused massive
flooding that affected Dakar's poorly constructed and over-populated
suburbs that have seen a population boom linked to internal
migration. Many families have been forced to abandon their houses
and now live in tents or have been given temporary shelters in
schools leading to the delay of the opening of the school year
scheduled for October 13. In conversations with Political
Specialist who visited the affected areas, many citizens were
extremely critical of local mayors and the government for not taking
the necessary step to first prevent the flooding and then for their
lackluster response in the aftermath. They also complained that
inaction by their local governments means that certain schools
remain closed three weeks into the school year because they have yet
to relocate families.

3. (U) The government estimates that 297 districts throughout the
Dakar region were affected with 26,612 houses destroyed leading to
the displacement of around 266,260 inhabitants. In a statement he
made to the press, the Minister for Housing and Construction, Oumar
Sarr, said that thousands of people have been displaced from their
homes in and around Dakar because they built houses where they
should never have been built. He cited the districts of Medina
Gounass and Geudiawaye, which are both located in a coastal wetland

4. (U) Since the 2006 rainy season more than 30 families in Medina
Gounass have been living in an area surrounded by stagnant water
that has still not drained as the water table is so high. Their
misery has been compounded by more rain in 2007 and the floods of
2008. These families cook, eat and sleep in an environment where
they are continually exposed to the twin threats of malaria and
cholera. They are surrounded by thrash (Note: Pictures are
available on Embassy Dakar Intranet page at: ion.aspx). People told
Political Specialist that they hoped to be relocated, but they are
still waiting because they do not know where to go. They claim that
the situation is getting worse every year but that the government is
mute to their demands for assistance. In Pikine, 117 districts sit
atop what used to be a swamp. Most of the families there use dirt
and sand in a futile attempt to prevent their homes from being


5. (SBU) The Government through its Plan ORSEC (Emergency Rescue
Organization) mobilized the army and the fire department and
released USD 600,000 to purchase fuel to pump water from the
affected areas. The operation came too late to prevent angry
citizens from demonstrating their discontent when President
Abdoulaye Wade visited in late September. Many homeless complained
about the lack of food, sleeping mats and hygiene kits. The
government promised to re-house the victims but many said they were
still waiting for a new home. However and perhaps in contrast to
these complaints the government's "Jaxaay Plan" which allocates USD
134 million for the construction of 3,000 community houses to
relocate people from flood zones seems to have been fairly
effective. To date USD 30 million has been spent to build 1,600
houses. While this still leaves many people living in areas prone
to flooding it's a step in the right direction.


6. (SBU) International donors released a total of USD 246 million in
disaster and humanitarian assistance with USD 148 million coming
from France and USD 98 million from China. USAID donated 50,000
mosquito nets to the populations of Pikine and Guediawaye. USAID,
in collaboration with the national health program to fight malaria,
also initiated education awareness campaigns to sensitize people

DAKAR 00001285 002.2 OF 002

about diseases related to the rainy season like malaria, skin
problems and cholera.


7. (SBU) Flooding is an annual problem in Dakar's suburban wetlands
zones. The rural exodus to Dakar by migrants looking for work has
greatly exacerbated the problem as newcomers illegally build houses
wherever there is space. In recent statements the government has
promised to be much more pro-active: "We are reactivating a law
that prohibit building on wetlands and will make sure that from now
on people are removed from these areas." said Minister Sarr. While
the Minister talks a good game, the challenges of Dakar are huge.
For example, the city's canals built to channel water away from
populated areas are frequently used as dumping areas for thrash, and
there are no comprehensive urban management and sanitation plans.
As a result, yearly rainfalls always cause some degree of flooding,
dislocating populations, and bringing diseases such as cholera and
malaria. The sharp increase in the urban population of Dakar is
contrasted by the meager growth of its economy. The yearly rains
perennially reveal the many problems of managing Dakar's urban
space, particularly the lack of adequate sanitation and sewers
systems and the non-enforcement building codes.

© Scoop Media

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