Senegal’s water-stressed capital faces difficult future

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Dakar (AFP) – Many residents of the Senegalese metropolis of Dakar wake up in the middle of the night hoping to get water from their taps, which are mostly dry.

“We get up at 4 or 5 in the morning to get water,” said Sidy Fall, 44, from her kitchen in a working-class neighborhood filled with large bottles of stored water.

If she doesn’t get up in time, the water tends to run out by 5:30am. Fall faucets sometimes dry for two or three days.

Senegal’s population boom is adding to the pressure on scarce water resources in its semi-arid capital of 5 million, with problems set to mount in the coming decades.

This is common in many African cities, where infrastructure investment lags behind strong demographics and water demand for industry and agriculture.

In Dakar, a recent World Bank report identified poor water management as well as overexploitation and groundwater pollution as some of the causes of water scarcity.

But demand for water is also rising, prompting city officials to race to improve infrastructure to ensure supply.

“Water is the source of life, but water here is the source of the problem,” Khadija Mahecor Diouf, mayor of Golf Sud, a suburb of Dakar, said at a public meeting last week.

Population explosion

Diouf told AFP that South Golf’s population has grown from 70,000 to 125,000 in 10 years and is expected to double in the next decade.

Half of the suburban households have water problems, she said.

“Our population is exploding and urban planning schemes are not being respected,” Diouf added, predicting the problem will get worse.

About one-third of Senegal’s 17 million people live in the Dakar region, which is also the country’s economic nerve center.

A recent World Bank report identified poor water management as part of the cause of water scarcity
A recent World Bank report identified poor water management as part of the cause of water scarcity Cello AFP

But uncontrolled expansion has myriad complications. Sewer systems are often lacking, and parts of Dakar experience frequent flooding during the rainy season.

Diouf said reducing water is a “year-round” issue.

According to the Senegalese government, 99% of urban residents and 91% of rural residents have access to water.

Supply remedies

Authorities are pushing to resolve supply problems in the capital, with the government saying it has made significant infrastructure investments.

Babou Ngom from state-owned water utility Sones said the new investment meant supply would soon meet demand.

Dakar is supplied by four factories that draw water from lakes and overexploited aquifers about 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of the city.

A fourth plant came online last year: by the end of 2022, Ngom said, it will produce 200,000 cubic meters per day – which will guarantee Dakar’s water supply until 2026.

Sones is also building a desalination plant on the Dakar coastline, which is expected to open in 2024.

Government argues there has been substantial infrastructure investment
Government argues there has been substantial infrastructure investment Cello AFP

While Dakar residents were quick to blame the government, Momar Ndao, president of the National Consumers Association, acknowledged that the situation had improved.

Often water is only available at the bottom, he added, and consumers are increasingly complaining about exorbitant prices.

more water

Sen’eau, a private company that has been managing Dakar’s water resources on behalf of the state since 2020, argues that recurring water shortages are not to blame.

The company – 45% owned by French utility Suez – was the target of widespread frustration.

But Sen’eau director Diery Ba said the company had inherited a crumbling water infrastructure and had set out to improve it.

“Almost no community has water 24 hours a day,” he said.

He added that this “adjustment period” is coming to an end, although the network upgrade has resulted in water outages.

Higher bills are also a result of consumers consuming more water than before, he said.

Despite improvements, Dakar’s future water supply remains a question mark.

According to the World Bank, Senegal’s water consumption will increase by 30 to 60 percent by 2035.

The bank said the country had an “urgent need to prioritize water security”.

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