The market street (top) where the Vivre Avec L'eau project has been piloted quickly returned to normal business following heavy rainfall, while adjacent streets remained flooded for days following the rains (bottom). Credit: Vivre Avec l'Eau/El Hadji Assane Gueye.
Extreme rainfall has been the signature of the rainfall recovery in the Sahel over the past 20 years, following decades of debilitating drought. Increasingly intense rainfall events have been interspersed with long periods of sparse and inconsistent rainfall, especially in the western Sahel. This year was no different.
Senegal, in particular, has experienced the effects of irregular rainfall. This year the rains were delayed until mid-August, worrying residents that this would be yet another dry year after last year’s meager rainfall. Then in mid-August the rainy season began in earnest with a number of thunderstorms dumping weeks worth of rainfall all at once and contributing to an above average rainy season overall. Even more unusual, the extreme rainfall events kept going well into October and the beginning the November when rainfall normally tapers off and the belt of thunderstorms bringing rainfall to the Sahel moves southward.
In Dakar these very local thunderstorms can mean flash flooding in areas directly in the path of the storm, while nearby neighborhoods may only see a shower or two and minimal damage.
For example, on August 9th thunderstorms dropped up to 99 mm of rain locally in Ngor, over half the total rainfall this area usually gets in the entire month of August. Other areas also received rainfall, but it was not quite as extreme.
Similar high intensity rainfall events occurred on August 18, 23, September 21st and October 15 requiring residents to deal with reoccurring flooding that disrupts regular business, damages homes, and limits mobility.
The BRACED project, Vivre Avec l’Eau (Live With Water), is working to address these issues by implementing an innovative water capture pilot program in the streets of Pikine, a low lying, flood-prone suburb of Dakar. The drainage system implemented by the project captures floodwater in large sandy basins, around which cash crop gardens of mint and basil provide an income for local residents. Using the basins, floods that once wiped out houses, strained the local economy and heightened the risk of disease have been converted into a new stock of fresh water for a West African community that is dusty and dry much of the year.
In fact, on August 18 following a heavy rainfall event, we visited the Vivre Avec L’eau BRACED project and found that the water capture system had been effective at keeping water out of people’s homes. Neighboring streets saw homes and businesses inundated with water, while residents who lived and worked on Ben Barak axis where this project has already been implemented were able to resume normal activity on the busy market street shortly after the rain.
The pilot drainage system slowed the pile up of water, redirected floodwaters to natural low-lying basins that helped replenish the town’s water supply, and prevented flooding from buildings, roads and the market.
On adjacent streets many residents dealt with the flooding by bucketing water out of their homes and drying their belongings. Women in particular were affected because they have to stay home for days while the streets are flooded to watch their young children for fear of them wandering outside and drowning in the enormous standing puddles left on the roads. This significantly impacts a family’s income because women are no longer able to work in the town’s markets
Ironically, the rapid urbanization of Dakar and its surrounding suburbs that has exacerbated flooding is a result of the Sahel-wide drought of the 1970s. This drought drove farmers to migrate from across Senegal and the Sahel to the capital city and settle in low-lying sandy suburbs where new homes were built to accommodate the population influx, amplifying the area’s natural tendency to turn into swampy lakes during the rainy season.
The flooding is not new; Dakar and its surrounding suburbs have regularly flooded since the recovery of rainfall leaving behind casualties, pools of disease-prone stagnant water, and destroyed crops in its wake. Regional climate models predict that the trend of increasingly intense rainfall will continue, and given the continued population increase, the need to adapt is urgent.
Often, the task of flood prevention and disaster relief assistance are left to the informal workings of a community’s long established social safety nets; with neighbors and family members helping one another drain water from the homes of those worst-hit. Severe floods in 2009 and 2012 resulted in many casualties compelling the government to pledge action and financial investment to flood infrastructure and assistance, but the impacts of these programs have yet to alleviate the burden across these communities.
The Vivre Avec L’eau project is just one example of what works to build the absorptive capacity of Dakar residents. While only active on one axis in Ben Barak, the success of this pilot, expected expansion of this project, and investment in the area gives hope for a more resilient Dakar.
The findings and conclusions detailed in this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the IFRC or its National Societies. The blog and any links it may contain are offered to stimulate discussion and thinking on the humanitarian impacts of climate change and variability.