Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dakar drowning in garbage

Senegal's capital Dakar is one of the most interesting cities I've ever visited. Dusty, vibrant, expansive without feeling overwhelming. It was definitely different from the other national capital I've spent much time in, Conakry, which had a more provincial, constrictive feel.

But like many African capitals, the Senegalese metropolis has been faced with a massive population growth in recent decades. As the IRIN news service reports, one of the big issues confronting municipal authorities in Dakar is how to deal with mountains of garbage produced by the swelling population.

The African Development Bank has estimated that annually each city produces an average 300,000 tonnes of waste, but that only 40-60 percent is actually collected.

This has serious consequences for public health.

"For over a year, the garbage wasn't picked up. You can't allow this in the rainy season. It can bring mosquitoes and malaria, as well as other sicknesses," said Fatou-Sakho Diallo, who lives in Dakar's middle-class Liberté 6 district, where residents tossed trash onto the street when they could no longer bear to have it sitting outside their homes.

IRIN noted that only 5 years ago, the civic authorities awarded a 25 year contract to an Italian firm for trash collection. But a myriad of civic problems, such as poor and congested roads and continued urban expansion, have caused refuse pickup to deteriorate rapidly. Dakar officials have threatened to cancel the contract if service doesn't improve.

But even a new trash hauling company won't address the underlying economic problems that cause Senegalese and other Africans to flee their villages for the cities in the first place.

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