Flood Risk and Urban Resilience in Dakar

Clara Ganemtore is SCI’s most recent addition to our Affiliated Researcher Program.  She is studying regional and urban planning at the London School of Economics. Her work centres on urban resilience to environmental threats. Based on a case study of flood risk management in Dakar, Senegal, she is examining the interplay between community-driven and institutional-based practices in cities of the Global South. Her research also explores how increasing environmental resilience may be linked to meeting broader socio-economic development goals.

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“On 10 July 2000, 300 people were killed by a landslide in Manila, the Philippines. A shameful and avoidable loss, but just one from a growing list of urban disasters with a natural trigger. The event stands out because the landslide was not of soil, rocks or mud but of solid waste. This was truly an urban disaster. The disaster occurred in a squatter settlement, home to 300,000 people. (…) First, it reminds us that urban areas are not immune to the forces of nature, which are more often associated with risk in rural communities. Second, it illustrates that it is communities of the poor and marginalized that face living with the greatest threats to health and livelihood from natural disaster, as well as having to cope with everyday risks from living and working in hazardous environments” – Mark Pelling (2003)

The introduction to this remarkable read, The vulnerability of cities: natural disasters and social resilience, perfectly captures the essence of my interest in urban resilience and flood risk management.

Rain is usually a celebrated event in the Sahel. A proper level of rainfall ensures a bountiful harvest and brings welcome relief to the arid heat of the dry season. As part of a natural cycle with its own complex balance, the rainy season contributes to sustaining a system of life from the rural to the urban. Since the 1990s however, the rainy season in Senegal and in much of the Sahel has not been a period of celebration, but one of hardship, particularly so in urban centers. Either due to overflowing river beds or rain water coming to rest in natural flood plains that have been used as human settlements during the dry season, floods now feature not only as an environmental issue, but also an urban issue.

The Limits of Planning for Risks

In the Global South, flood risk management is also not simply a problem of unplanned urbanization (often associated with informality); it also brings to light the limits in conventional planning methods. The traditional discussion on limits to urban expansion and growth in the sustainability debate says little about the status that the poor have within the rescaling of state-spaces.

Planning against floods in a city such as Dakar, is not simply about how best to deal with the urban form, it is also a highly contentious political question on what makes cities good places to live? Who is included in the making of the cities we want? It is about people and their wellbeing as much as it is about the city itself.

Building Urban Resilience

Urban resilience as a concept offers to bridge the gap between form and content and between institutions and people. The concept of urban resilience builds on the idea that the built environment can offer its own solutions to its own problems. The main idea is to reinforce the city’s capacity to adapt to shock and threats in the form of natural hazards, bio-technological hazards, terrorism, economic downturns or political unrest.

How can we build resilience? Through innovation and imagination, more precisely how we imagine the city.

But what, concretely, does this look like in practice? That is the purpose of my upcoming fieldwork in Dakar. Through interviews and field observations over a period of three weeks, I will be looking into the Institut Africaine de Gestions Urbaine’s (IAGU) project on natural hazards and climate change risk management in Dakar, Senegal. The purpose of this research is to shed light on the difficult problems mentioned above, by trying to provide answers to the following questions:

  • What is the impact of urban planning on natural disaster relief in cities of the global South?
  • What are the implications for development in the midst of rapid urbanization?
  • Is it possible to plan outside of official state channels? Or should planning set the stage for active state participation in the urbanization process of developing states?
  • What are the boundaries between state provision of infrastructure and community participation in the planning process?

Watch this space for updates as my research develops.


About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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3 Responses to Flood Risk and Urban Resilience in Dakar

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  2. I look forward to seeing the results of your research. Using planning initiatives to build natural disaster resilience in Dakar is truly a wicked problem. The geological characteristics of the peninsula make further flooding and erosion in general an inevitability, but no one in the local or national government seems to want to recognize this fact. Further, nobody seems to want to move out of the most at risk neighborhood when the government does offer relocation incentives. Good luck to you in your study and I hope you put the city of Dakar on the path to a solution.

  3. Pingback: Surviving in a Floodplain: Adapting to Risk and Vulnerability in Dakar | Sustainable Cities International blog

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