Water cuts shorten Senegal leader's UN visit

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Associated Press

Posted on September 25, 2013 at 7:30 AM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 25 at 10:36 AM

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — For nearly two weeks, Dakar residents have bathed in the ocean, dug makeshift wells along the beach and waited in long lines near distribution trucks in search of water that is no longer running from the taps.

The capital city's poor outer suburbs and wealthy expatriate neighborhoods alike have been affected by water cuts that officials blame on faulty equipment located hundreds of kilometers away.

Frustration with the government has mounted daily_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. Though water and power cuts are common in developing countries, a two-week cut in services is unprecedented in Senegal, and young men have burned tires in the streets in protest.

Dakar has a history of forceful responses to cuts in basic services, including riots over power cuts that threatened the government of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

On Wednesday, current President Macky Sall decided to cut short his visit to the United Nations General Assembly to return and address the problem, according to a statement issued by his office. He will preside over a cabinet meeting on Thursday, the statement said.

As they waited on Yoff Beach for young men to fill plastic basins with water from wells dug in the sand, residents said 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 5 a.m. to midnight every day.

"Every day on the radio they say the water will be coming back soon, but the problem still isn't fixed," said 36-year-old Samb Gueye, who 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."

In Dakar's Naari Tali neighbourhood, Leomie Sene waited in line with five of her children near a distribution truck sent out by the city's water provider. She said she took up her position at 5 a.m., yet by noon the truck had come and gone twice to refill and she still hadn't been served.

Like the other women standing alongside her, Sene said she had no choice but to continue waiting. "We can't do anything without water," she said.

Down the street, sections of black asphalt showed where young men had burned tires the night before to protest the situation, prompting security forces to disperse them with tear gas.

Maniang Paye, 22, who witnessed Tuesday night's altercation from the shop where he exchanges currency, said he suspected the water provider would make sure everyone in the area was served in response to the protest, but he doubted Sall's administration could ensure a speedy resolution to the larger technical problem. "This government can't fix anything," he said.

Outcry over the water cuts comes as Sall, elected last year, is hoping to start a new chapter in his presidency. Earlier this month, he replaced his prime minister with Aminata Toure, who as justice minister spearheaded an anti-corruption drive that led to indictments against high-level members of Wade's administration_including the former president's son, Karim.

Paye and other residents said, however, that the government would be smart to focus on more fundamental problems like water and electricity. "They need to stop with these audits and start doing some real work," he said.

For his part, Karim Wade said this week that he was comfortable waiting out the water cuts from his current home in Dakar's main prison. "I'm better off than you," he told the local newspaper Liberation. "I do not lack water here."

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