Page last updated at 23:54 GMT, Sunday, 13 September 2009 00:54 UK

Senegal battles rising tides

Flooding in Dakar
Dakar's growing population helps make the flooding worse

By Will Ross
BBC News, Dakar

Getting to bed is a nightly assault course for Mamadou Mbaye and his family in the Senegalese capital.

Their home in Dakar's Guediawaye suburb is under water and piles of precariously balanced rocks form stepping stones between the flooded rooms.

"There is nothing we can do. We just have to live with the water," says Mr Mbaye, adding that they do not sleep alone as they now have plenty of mosquitoes for company.

"This has been happening for the past few years. But we are poor and we can't do anything about it.

"I've lived here for 49 years. We were born here and we brought up our children here so we don't want to leave."

Climate change

The recent heavy rain in Dakar has been too much for the city's drainage systems which are often inadequate, blocked or non-existent.

We are not helped by our government - all we get is words but they don't do anything
Elimane Diop

At times roads have become impassable and people in flashy saloon cars look jealously as the more practical horse and cart clip-clops, or more accurately splish-splashes, past.

Residents of Dakar point out that the quantity of rain that has fallen during the past five or six years has been far higher than before.

Analysts suggest climate change is having an impact but it is not the only cause of the flooding.

As people have rushed from the villages to live in Senegal's mushrooming capital, many have built on land which is unsuitable and is susceptible to flooding.

Residents in Guediawaye say that even if they pump the water out of their homes, the rooms quickly fill up again as water comes straight up through the ground - so high is the level of the groundwater.

"This is a very hard place to live. Because of the water everybody is sick - the old and the young," says 28-year-old Elimane Diop.

"We are not helped by our government - all we get is words but they don't do anything.

"They come near here by car and then announce that they have visited the area but we want them to help the people living here. If people want to move they should be helped and if they want to stay they should also get help."

Exaggerated impact?

Many residents in the flood-affected areas have directed their anger at the government which stayed remarkably quiet about the floods until President Abdoulaye Wade returned from his month-long vacation in France.

Mamadou Mbaye's children in their flooded house
It is not easy getting round the Mbaye house

The government then appealed for help as it announced that more than 250,000 were affected - a figure which the United Nations repeated but had little means of verifying.

Some observers suggest the government figures are a little on the high side and could be part of an effort to attract aid to make some political gains in a city where the opposition swept to victory in local elections earlier this year.

In 2007 Ghanaian officials were accused of a similar tactic when they said entire villages in the north of the country had been wiped off the map by floods.

It turned out to be a gross exaggeration.

When governments are shouting for help and aid agencies are shouting for funding, it can at times be hard for journalists to be sure they are being presented with an accurate assessment.

Whatever the figures, for the people battling with the floods, the sight of more heavy clouds is a great worry.

In mainly Muslim Senegal, this has been a difficult holy month of Ramadan.

People have been pounded by rain and have also been plunged into darkness after the national electricity company, Senelec, failed to pay the bill to import fuel for the power plants.


Across the region, the UN says 600,000 people have been affected by the floods since June.

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This is a cumulative figure and therefore is not a snapshot of the current situation.

The UN says "affected" refers to people who have been displaced as well as those who are not able to get on with their lives as normal - for example cooking and studying.

The UN says 100 people have died in the floods, most of them in Sierra Leone. Burkina Faso has also been hard hit.

"It is not as bad as two years ago when 800,000 people were affected but it is worrisome as we have a few more weeks to go of the rainy season," said Yvon Edoumou a spokesman for the UN's humanitarian agency, OCHA.

And while West Africa has been hit by floods, the east of the continent is suffering from a drought - twin battles which analysts say will become more common as a result of climate change.

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