DAKAR // For more than two weeks, residents of Dakar have bathed in the ocean, dug makeshift wells along the beach and waited in long lines near distribution lorries in search of water that is no longer running from the taps.
The capital city’s poor outer suburbs and wealthy expatriate neighbourhoods alike have been affected by water cuts that officials blame on faulty equipment hundreds of kilometres away.
Frustration with the government mounts daily, and is compounded by the fact that Senegal is in the middle of the rainy season and large sections of the city are simultaneously dealing with flooding.
President Macky Sall decided to cut short his visit to the United Nations General Assembly last week to return and address the problem, which began on September 12.
“The president of the republic has called on his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, and teams of experts will be sent in to bring technical assistance,” the Senegalese prime minister, Aminata Toure, said on state television on Thursday night.
The two-week cut in services is unprecedented in Senegal, and young men have burnt tyres in the streets in protest.
“Every day on the radio they say the water will be coming back soon, but the problem still isn’t fixed,” said Dakar resident Samb Gueye, 36. She brought 10 basins to the beach so that her family would be able to cook, clean and bathe. “I don’t know what we’ll do if this continues.”
As people waited on Yoff Beach for young men to fill plastic basins with water from wells dug in the sand, residents said Mr Sall better act fast.
The volunteer operators of the wells, made of stones and spare tires, said they were pumping out water for thousands of Dakar residents from 5am to midnight every day.
Dakar has a history of forceful responses to cuts in basic services, including riots over power cuts that threatened the government of a former president, Abdoulaye Wade.
In Dakar’s Naari Tali neighbourhood, Leomie Sene waited in line with five of her children near a distribution lorry sent out by the city’s water provider.
She said she had started queuing at 5am, yet by noon the lorry had come and gone twice to refill and she still had not been served.
Like the other women standing beside her, Ms Sene said she had no choice but to wait. “We can’t do anything without water,” she said.
Down the street, sections of black asphalt showed where young men had burnt tyres before to protest against the situation, prompting security forces to disperse them with tear gas.
Maniang Paye, 22, said he doubted Mr Sall’s administration could ensure a speedy resolution to the larger technical problems.
“This government can’t fix anything,” he said.
Karim Wade, a former government minister and the son of the former president, said he was comfortable waiting out the water cuts from his current home in Dakar’s main prison, where he is being held as he faces corruption charges.
“I’m better off than you,” he told a local newspaper. “I do not lack water here.”