Water stress in the pipes of Dakar

Long before dawn, in the seclusion of their homes, a crowd of people from Dakar and the suburbs awoke from their sleep to fill the bottles below and anticipate the expected blackout before dawn.

“We get up at 4:00 and at 5:00 for water. Otherwise, at 5:30 no more. Sometimes, it happens that for two or three days without a drop of water,” explains Sidi Fall, 44, in his kitchen in the popular Geul-Tape area. The underside of the sink and adjoining bathroom are cluttered with plastic storage bottles.

Similar evidence abounds in and around Dakar, where an international forum on water security was held last week. They talk about being tired from getting up in the dark, about pushing bedpans against each other, or about leaving the faucet open at night to fill the bath a little while he sleeps.

Filling bottles from a tank truck in Dakar on March 8, 2022 (AFP – SEYLLOU)

For years, water for agricultural, industrial or domestic purposes has become less and less available in this fishing nation, according to a recent World Bank report. The institution blames this on climate change, overuse and pollution of groundwater, and poor resource management.

Demand continues to grow. Dakar is in a race between rapid expansion and security of supply.

“Water is the source of life, but here water is the source of problems,” said Khadija Mahekor Diouf, the mayor of Golf Sud in the suburbs of Dakar, at a public gathering last week.

– Concerned Mayor –

Golf Sud has grown from 70,000 to 125,000 inhabitants in ten years, and in ten years the population will double again,” she told AFP, reporting that half of the households have problems with water.

“The population exploded, urban planning schemes were not followed, pipes were not laid,” she laments. And “it will get worse in the future.”

Morning boat trip in Dakar, March 8, 2022 (AFP - SEYLLOU)
Morning boat trip in Dakar, March 8, 2022 (AFP – SEYLLOU)

One third of the country’s population and more than half of economic activity is concentrated in the Greater Dakar. This uncontrolled expansion brings its share of suffering. Satisfaction is not enough. Many residents of Dakar overcome the floods during the rainy season.

But water shortages are “a problem for us all year round,” says the mayor of Golf Sud.

Of the 17 million Senegalese, 98.8% have access to water in the city and 91% in the countryside, the competent ministry objects.

In Dakar, supply will soon match demand, promises Babu Ngom, head of the National Water Company (Sones).

– Horizon 2035 –

Until recently, capital has been supplied by three plants that pump water into Lake Giers, 250 km to the north, as well as by abstraction from overexploited and degraded groundwater.

The fourth plant, KMS3, will be commissioned in 2021. When his production reaches 200,000 m3 per day, possibly at the end of 2022, Dakar’s needs will be met until 2026, he assures us at the lakeside, where he coordinated the project.

A water pump in the Kolobane area of ​​Dakar, March 7, 2022 (AFP - SEYLLOU)
A water pump in the Kolobane area of ​​Dakar, March 7, 2022 (AFP – SEYLLOU)

Then “before the 2035 horizon, other structuring projects will fill the need,” he assures. Among them is a seawater desalination plant, which he says should be operational in Dakar in 2024.

On a topic that has a strong public outcry, the state announces its investments: drilling, water towers, pipes.

Momar Ndao, president of the Senegal Consumers Association, admits there are improvements. But, in some areas of Dakar, “as soon as we are on the 1st floor, we have no water in the evening.”

Now he’s worried about the seven complaints he receives on average every week from consumers who dispute their bills: “We get arrested all the time for unexplained amounts.”

– Relevance of development –

Since 2020, the state has entrusted production and distribution in urban areas to Sén’eau (55% of Senegal’s capital, 45% of French Suez), which refuses to take the blame.

Diri Ba, director, cites the state in which the company has found infrastructure and services. “It is unlikely that any area has round-the-clock water,” he says.

Water treatment plant KMS3 in Dakar, March 15, 2022 (AFP - SEYLLOU)
Water treatment plant KMS3 in Dakar, March 15, 2022 (AFP – SEYLLOU)

Seno has delivered major projects through additional cutbacks, but that “adaptation period” is coming to an end, he assures us.

With KMS3, Dakar’s shortage of cars has all but disappeared, he says, “except for a few small pockets.” As for the invoices, “the price per m3 has not changed”. But as production grew, so did consumption and bills, he explains.

Anxiety due to a dry faucet is just one of the problems that Senegal will face in the near future. Fees are expected to increase by 30-60% by 2035, the World Bank predicts. Water-related extreme events and pollution are already costing it more than 10% of GDP per year. Senegal “must urgently prioritize water security” if it is to achieve its development goals, she warns.

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