In a city of water

By Aliou Bassoum
We have never seen anything like what is happening this year, says Awa Diop of Pikine, Senegal, whose family has been living in floodwater for months.

“This is how we have been living for over three months,” says Awa Diop, who sits in the doorway of her home, her feet and ankles resting in five inches of murky water.

Diop is a grandmother who lives with 15 members of her family in the city of Pikine, Senegal. When late summer rains pounded the region, this low-lying city fared badly. Its poor neighborhoods lack proper drainage, and the city has become an urban lake. In Diop’s house, every room but one is submerged in the still waters of a flood that acts like it’s here to stay.

“Since 2005, we have been suffering from the floods, but we have never seen anything like what is happening this year,” says Diop.

While flood persists, conditions of life are harsh

The nearby marketplace is under water, too, so for people who make their living by trade, incomes have vanished. And for the many who, like Diop and her family, buy their provisions day to day as they can, there are practically no stores of food in their homes to fall back on.

Health is a worry, as well: the latrines that are now deep in floodwater are slowly releasing their contents into the streets and schools and homes of Pikine, setting the stage for outbreaks of diarrheal and skin disease.  And the standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes which, in malarial regions like this, pose serious threats to health.

No one should have to live in standing water

Oxfam has joined forces with Eau Vie et Environment, a Senegalese partner organization, to assist 28,000 people affected by the floods in Pikine. We are removing water from homes, pumping waste from latrines before it flows into the streets, and distributing soap and other hygiene materials to help residents protect their health under these difficult conditions. For those in greatest need, we are also distributing small sums of cash to enable them to buy essentials for their families.

“Our goal is to provide immediate relief to those who need it most but also to address the longer-term problem of drainage with the local and national authorities whose job it is to prevent disasters like this,” says Oxfam’s Dawit Beyene. “No one should have to live in standing water.”