Life in Dakar: No water, rice, electricity

“There is a shortage of everything in Dakar,” complains Pascal Pareira, in line to get cooking gas in a working-class neighbourhood in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, which has been plagued by shortages in basic necessities these past weeks.

“For the last week, I haven’t had water and I haven’t had gas. I went a month without finding rice,” the brewery worker from the Grand-Yoff neighbourhood sighs.

The West African country, which imports the majority of its food and all of its petrol, has been hit hard by rising food and fuel prices.

“We are tired,” Vieux Si, who works in a fish factory, says while standing in line with several dozen others looking for cooking gas in the Parcelles-Assainies neighbourhood.

On the street in this working-class area, burned-out tyres are the visible remains of clashes between residents and the police last week over frequent power cuts and water shortages. The water company says the cuts in water supply are due to maintenance work and promises that the situation will be back to normal soon.

“We have frequent water and power cuts.
I pray to God that he will help us survive this situation,” says Dieynaba Sadio, a resident. “There is not enough water, gas or rice, and for the rice the prices have also risen.”

For the past few weeks, a kilo of rice officially set to be sold at 240 CFA francs ($0,58) is now sold for 400 francs CFA. A 6kg bottle of cooking gas is officially supposed to cost 2 500 CFA francs and is sold for about 3 000 CFA francs.

“We Senegalese only know rice but now for breakfast we often eat pasta with some corned beef [canned meat],” says Moustafa, who lives close to Dakar’s city centre.

According to the Senegalese government the high rice prices are not the result of an actual shortage but of “speculative behaviour” by rice traders.

Prime Minister Cheikh Adjibou Soumare says “fraudulent re-exports of all the subsidised basic needs such as rice and gas” to neighbouring countries like Mauritania are to blame for the situation. He has promised severe measures against speculating businessmen.

“The rice is not only expensive but it’s a struggle to find it at all,” restaurant owner Kine Diop says.

“I sent someone out to find some but I don’t know if I will have rice today. In any case I don’t make a lot of profit any more because of the rising food prices and the drop in clients,” she explains. “For the last few weeks I’ve been losing 5 000 CFA francs every day. I wonder if I can continue to run my restaurant.”

In a neighbouring house in the Medina area, elderly Bamar Diene Bandia has found a way to cut the cost of the basic necessities.

“I had water bills of some 95 000 CFA francs every two months. I installed a hand water pump two weeks ago to pump up water for laundry, washing and bathing,” he says. The water from the faucets is only used for drinking water.

In the same family compound, which houses about 40 people, electricity is also rationed. Sixty-something Fatou Marieme Diop says she cuts the power herself “daily between 7am and 7pm” to save on electricity bills.

“We were paying up to 75 000 CFA francs but the last bill was at 35 000 CFA francs,” she says.

She may need her savings: the Senegalese government announced last week that electricity prices would go up in August to keep an even pace with rising petrol prices. The majority of the West African country’s power plants run on imported petrol.—Sapa-AFP

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