Posted on: May 14, 2009 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

Senegal. Garbage is everywhere in the forlorn, dun-colored slum abutting Dakar, the capital. Delivered on order for a few pennies a load by rickety horse-drawn carts speeding through the dirt streets of the Médina Gounass neighborhood of Guédiawaye, it is as pervasive as the hot midday sun in which it bakes. The people have no choice but to use it to shore up their flood-prone houses and streets in this low-lying area near the Atlantic coast.

Garbage, packed down tight and then covered with a thin layer of sand, is used to raise the floors of houses that flood regularly in the brief but intense summer rainy season, and it is packed into the dusty streets that otherwise become canals. The water lingers for months in the low-lying terrain of this bone-dry country.

Garbage is a surrogate building material, a critical filler to deal with the stagnant water – cheap, instantly accessible and never diminishing. The plastic-laden spillover from these foul-smelling deliveries pokes up through the sandy lots, covers the ground between the crumbling cinder-block houses, becomes grazing ground for goats, playground for barefoot, runny-nosed children and breeding ground for swarms of flies.
Disease flourishes here, aid groups say: cholera, malaria, yellow fever and tuberculosis.

Ten miles away in the capital, piles of refuse are merely an intermittent feature of the dusty cityscape. Garbage in Dakar is dumped under tattered signs warning “Dump no garbage,” and trash fires burn all night in neighborhoods by the beaches. Torn black plastic bags festoon Dakar’s shrubbery, trees and fences.
“It’s a problem of money,” said Zale Fall, standing nearby. “The people who live here don’t have the means for sand or rubble, so they are obliged to call the cart-drivers for filler. It’s for our children’s sake. Better to have illnesses than death.”

“All the diseases come with it,” he said, “and they are so far advanced in these neighborhoods. Children are the most exposed. People live all year long right up against stagnant water and garbage.”
In an upside-down world where garbage is sought for and dumped among homes, not removed, “people have no alternatives; they are left to themselves; they can only count on themselves,” said Joseph Gaï Ramaka, a leading Senegalese filmmaker.

“These are people who are proud of being clean,” said Mr. Ramaka, who now lives in New Orleans. “When they have to buy garbage, it’s because they don’t have any choice. The garbage, at least, allows them to sleep with their feet out of the water, and in their own house.’

Source: Daily Trust