Africa's 'Venice' in Peril
Two-thirds of Saint-Louis residents face flood risk
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted May 27, 2013 9:40 AM CDT
People and animals mingle on a fishing beach on the Atlantic Ocean, in Saint-Louis, Senegal, Sunday, May 19, 2013.   (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

(Newser) – It's called the "Venice of Africa": Saint-Louis, Senegal, is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Senegal River, and the water has long been central to its economy. But now, like its Italian namesake, it's facing disaster from rising water levels. Some two-thirds of the city's population of 250,000 faces a flooding risk, AFP reports; a river channel 13 feet across in 2003 is now more than a mile wide. "If things keep going the way they are, the whole city of Saint-Louis will have to be moved," says the city's mayor.

A UN rep labeled Saint-Louis the African city "most threatened by rising sea levels" in 2008. Already, parts of the city are gone, and more heavy rain is due within weeks. Thanks to erosion, "the village of Doun Baba Dieye has completely disappeared and villages to the south are progressively more threatened." A former resident describes losing his home, with water entering his bedroom as he slept. "Now I cannot teach my children what my ancestors taught me—knowledge of the sea, fishing, fauna and flora." The city's hope is to use the water "as a unique selling point and fully integrate it in ... urban planning," says the UN, "similar to what the Venetians did a long time ago."

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Showing 3 of 9 comments
Nov 3, 2013 3:55 PM CST
I just returned to Dakar from St. Louis tonight and saw this disaster first-hand. There are two problems that make the city an unmitigated human-caused ecological catastrophe. First is overpopulation, which is choking the city with trash. The beaches are not drop dead gorgeous white sand. They are just dead, with every imaginable kind of garbage (On a 15-minute walk, I counted three toilet seats). The river side of the Langue de Barberie peninsula (a narrow spit of land that separates the Senegal river from the ocean) is literally a dump, the accumulation of decades worth of human refuse from the 250,000 inhabitants (up from 155,000 reported in the 2009 edition of Lonely Planet's guide to Senegal). Everywhere there are small children. A local told me that it was common for a man to have 4 or 5 wives and 15 children. The rising water level is the result of a cut that was made through the peninsula in 2003 in an attempt to prevent flooding in St. Louis. The sea has widened the cut with astounding speed and the changed course of the river has caused silt to accumulate at the former mouth of the river further down the peninsula. The resulting erosion seems to have doomed the river-peninsula system to drastic changes over the coming years, eventually displacing tens of thousands of people who are barely subsisting. Rising sea levels caused by climate change will only make the situation worse.
May 30, 2013 4:07 PM CDT
Damn....I wondered what ever happenned to Doun Baba Dieye?
May 27, 2013 4:24 PM CDT
Had to check that out with Google Earth. It's more like an African Manhattan Island than an Italian Venice. It's surrounded by water, not cut through with canals. Drop dead gorgeous white sand beaches.