Surviving in a Floodplain: Adapting to Risk and Vulnerability in Dakar

Clara Ganemtore (SCI Affiliated Researcher) has recently completed her field work on flood risk responses in Dakar (Senegal). In this entry she provides an overview of her principle case study site (the suburb of Pekine) as well as a preview of the key questions that she will be discuss in her research.

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Pikine is the most populated suburb of Dakar and largest urban agglomeration of Senegal. The area is a bustling center of activity, awake day and night. Its streets, for the most part covered in sand, are lined with shops, vendors and a sea of vehicles in a race for the fullest seats on the main streets.

This is not the part of town where you will come across the multimillion seaside residential and commercial developments of greater Dakar. Rather – apart from the authorized and officially planed neighborhoods of Pikine Régulier – this is where the poor and unfortunate come to dwell. Built during a 30 year dry period, much of Pekine is in fact a flood plain. Since the return of normal rainfall in the late 1980s, rising groundwater and annual floods are aggravating poor living conditions and threatening the economic and human activities of its 915,300 residents.

View of Pikine from the rooftops of Leona, a neighborhood of DTK, 16/07/2012

Djedah Thiaroye Kao (DTK), one of the 16 administrative districts of Pikine, has been hit particularly hard by the floods. DTK makes up one tenth of Pikine’s total population, with 107,844 people living on 1.9 Km2, by far the most densely populated area in the periphery of the city (2009 figures). Like much of Pikine, DTK is in a flood plain, with homes having been built in low-lying areas, dried out ponds and natural passage ways for stormwater.

Tally Neitty Mbar (main street of DTK) July 18, 2012

Tally Neitty Mbar (main street of DTK), flooded in 2009.
Source: Requalification des zones inondés de Djeddah Thiaroye Kao. urbaDTK.org

Once on the ground, it was clear that the research questions that I had previously outlined were too ambitious. The floods in Dakar have been the subject of multiple studies and interventions ranging from residents mapping affected zones through participative planning approaches, to state relocation of flood victims, to proposals for restructuring the unplanned settlements and hydraulic drainage plans. It was impressive to see how much literature has already been produced; something that makes the fact that thousands still lived in stagnant waters years after the heavy rains of 2005 and 2009 all the more shocking.

Remaining structure of a flooded abandoned house in Leona, DTK, July 16,2012

There have been multiple interventions in the suburbs of Dakar to respond to flooding. They can be divided into two categories:

1) Structural approaches that favor physical intervention through reconstruction and engineering works.

2) Non-structural approaches that support capacity building at the local level and social reform.

After consultation with the director of the IAGU and the technical director of Eau.Vie.Environnement (E.V.E), an Oxfam partner, I decided to focus my research on the later. While the structural approaches are very much relevant, modifications on the built environment require understanding and acceptance (to a certain minimum) by the affected population. Furthermore it is the affected population that has been the most proactive in dealing with the floods in Pikine (more to come on population initiatives in my next post).

The asset-vulnerability /asset-based adaptation framework, the framework guiding IAGU’s pilot study, incorporates the human and political dimensions of urban disasters and serves as a theoretical framework for this research. The revised research questions focus on evaluating the adaptation strategies of individuals and households against the floods and examining if/how those strategies are integrated in plans and actions of community organizations, development agencies and local authorities intervening in DTK. More specifically, I will now be focusing my work on four questions:

  1. What actions/strategies are taken/used by individuals and households against floods? Are these strategies sustainable and do they help to reduce their vulnerability?
  2. Are these actions/strategies integrated in the policies/interventions of the various actors on the ground (community groups, development agencies, local authorities, government agencies)?
  3. What are the barriers and limits to the integration of household strategies? How can these strategies be supported?
  4. Do these strategies contribute in the overall reduction of the affected population’s vulnerability and build resilience?

Questions? Contact Alex Aylett, our SCI Research Director at aaylett(at)icsc.ca or contact Clara directly at C.B.Ganemtore (at)lse.ac.uk

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One Response to Surviving in a Floodplain: Adapting to Risk and Vulnerability in Dakar

  1. Pingback: From Household Actions to Community Strategies: Managing Flood Risk in Dakar, Senegal | Sustainable Cities International blog

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