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Problems in Guediawaye

Asalaam Maleekum! I know I promised to post about ataaya in greater detail, but Guediawaye is on my mind and perhaps a little more important, so here we go. Last week I went on a field trip with my Environment and Agriculture class to Guediawaye, a suburb northeast of Dakar. Suburb here does not have the same connotation as it does in the Twin Cities. In general, the suburbs are the less well-developed areas where too many people live in less-than-sufficient conditions; Guediawaye, unfortunately, is a strong example of this. The focus of our field trip was to see the environmentally-related development problems in this part of town. And we really saw them.

Like any other part of Dakar, sadly, the sides of the roads were covered in garbage. People here are not in the habit of holding onto their garbage until they find a trash can. This might be because the trash bins are often full or have piles of trash around them, or simply because people don't consider it a big enough issue to attempt to change their lifestyles. In either case, dropping your Kafe Touba cup on the sidewalk after you finish is normal in Senegal, and Guediawaye is no exception. As we walked through the town, we discussed some difficulties that the town faces because of poor planning by civil engineers. For example, construction waste left unattended combined with a rocky and sandy terrain leaves water unable to penetrate the ground. Similarly, the way the land levels out--or doesn't, really--prevents rain and other waste water from flowing properly, creating dryness in some places and stagnant standing water in other. Not only is this a poor system for the environment because it does not function with the natural needs of the area, but also it creates health and safety concerns.

All of these problems were amplified tenfold when we walked down a hill into the heart of the town to see the worst of the situation. At the bottom of the hill was a street with houses, stores, and schools on either side, and a large neon green lake in the middle of it, lined with garbage. Construction vehicles and people stood there idly, watching as we wandered and discussed what we were seeing. Apparently, because of the impermeability of the ground on the hill, all of the rain and waste water pools at the bottom in the street. There too it is unable to soak into the ground, and thus it stays and rots with the garbage and the waste. Not only does this prevent transportation in this part of town, but also it causes health hazards for those who live there and for anyone who passes through. Some houses and schools along this stretch have even been abandoned because of the problem.

As we walked along the shore of this neon green pond, our professor pointed out a small makeshift bridge for us to cross, calling it the "Golden Gate Bridge" of Dakar. After crossing, we talked about the efforts being made toward improving the situation:  drainage canals, some construction, but nothing that will really suffice in the long run. The water needs to be removed and prevented from returning, but such a project would be too big, too expensive, and too futile for a place like Guediawaye.

The reason it would be futile is because Guediawaye is situated on a water table and is gradually sinking into this underground lake. Any changes, repairs, or improvements that we make now will be useless in a few years. This was extremely evident when we went deeper into the residential part of town. There we witnessed quite the phenomenon:  quite a few houses were slowing sinking into the ground. There was one house whose window base was about a foot from the ground; we looked inside and saw the entire building filled with water and garbage. The house had literally sunk about three fourths of the way into the ground and filled up with water at the same time. It had been abandoned, naturally, but no one took care of the electricity there so there is a really big danger with this and other houses in the same condition. People who choose not to abandon their houses when they begin to sink instead add new parts on top of the walls that already exist. This helps for the moment, but it doesn't fix the real problem or do any good in the long run. However, the people of Guediawaye can't afford to move away, nor can they--or the government, for that matter--afford to make the changes that would be necessary to actually fix the problem. And, realistically, I don't know if this problem can be fixed. The weight of the town is such that everything will continue to sink into the water table regardless of any temporary improvements made today.

I wish I could say that I had a solution. I wish I could say that moving all of the residents was possible or realistic, or that we could build lightweight styrafoam houses for everyone in place of the concrete that they currently use. However, as it stands, there really aren't a lot of readily available solutions, so at the moment we simply have to hope as much as we can and put on our thinking caps for a better solution.

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