Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mauritania could lose its capital to the sea

Med Abderrahmane in IPS: For the past five years, water has been seeping out of the ground beneath parts of Nouakchott, undermining foundations and transforming some areas of the Mauritanian capital into uninhabitable marshes. Tabara Gaye, a widow living in the Socogim PS neighbourhood of this coastal city, told IPS that her neighbours' house collapsed on Jun. 20. She is demanding urgent help from the government before this year's rainy season to pay for pumps and the cost of building embankments against the rising waters.

In 2007, limited flooding was observed in several places during the rainy season. But in January 2011, residents were forced to flee their homes when water began invading several neighbourhoods, including Socogim, Bagdad, Sebkha and Las Palmas. Murmurs of discontent gained strength until the clamour for compensation from the government and private developers who laid out the now-flooded sites spurred the government to act.

Mauritanian president Mohamed Abdelaziz personally visited the sites in April and set up an inter-ministerial committee to look into the problem, but the committee is yet to report back. Retiree Moktar Kane, a victim of the flooding, says, "I spent 35 millions ouguiyas (around 138,000 dollars), to purchase a flood-prone plot. My neighbours and I, a total of 476 families, need a drain to drain waste water and runoff… or we want substantial compensation."

Compensation for Kane and his neighbours is out of the question, according to the developers, Iskan (the name means housing in Arabic). "The lots were allocated in 1982, and the water table then was at two metres," says Iskan's technical director, Med Ali. "All of Nouakchott finds itself below the water table. Only the government can settle this."

Recent studies by the government suggest that nearly 80 percent of the overall surface area of Nouakchott could be submerged in less than a decade – in 20 years at most. One scenario predicts the disappearance of the city by around 2050. The director of environmental services, Ould Lefdal, explains it simply, "Nouakchott is located in a depression 50 centimetres below sea level. The sea is advancing towards the city at a rate of 25 metres per year."...

The fishing port in Nouakchott, shot by Hugues, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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