July 21, 2020 / 8:04 AM / 14 days ago

Fight to save Senegalese capital's coast gains momentum

DAKAR (Reuters) - From the top of a ladder, a Senegalese girl struggles to catch a glimpse of the beach hidden by a swanky hotel’s sprawling ocean frontage - a stunt for a music video that highlights growing grassroots efforts to save Dakar’s coast from hungry developers.

The video shows the threat that unregulated construction poses to the Senegalese capital’s eroding shoreline, which provides a cherished escape for residents of the crowded and often polluted city.

“Where will our children play tomorrow?,” raps activist hiphop artist Malal Talla, also known as ‘Fou Malade’, as drone footage shows the concrete husks of half-built buildings and an industrial site on the West African shore.

The Dakar region’s population is growing at twice the rate of the rest of Senegal and has reached 3 million.

Scientists and residents have sounded the alarm over the destruction of ocean-side plantations of filao - whistling pine trees - whose salt-tolerant, far-reaching roots stabilise the dunes and slow coastal erosion.

Dakar lost nearly 9 metres of coast per year in its worst-affected areas between 2006 and 2015, far above the national average of 1-2 metres, said Amadou Tahirou Diaw, a former geography professor at Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop university.

Michel Mendy, who coordinates the activist group behind the video, said he understood the capital needed to grow. “But it doesn’t mean they have to go to the forest nearby, cut it and replace it with concrete,” he said, standing on the beach in Dakar’s Guediawaye district, where a new highway has split its strip of ageing filaos.

The group’s protest adds to a chorus of public anger fueled by a recent construction project on one of Dakar’s most popular open beaches. Dismay mounted in May when a digger started gouging chunks from one of the city’s twin volcanic hills. Thousands signed an online petition urging the government to take action.

Slideshow (7 Images)

The environment ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

It is not the first time Dakar has seen developers restrict coastal access, exploit legal loopholes, or build in protected areas. But Professor Diaw said he was heartened that the fight to protect the coast had gained fresh momentum during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Maybe after COVID-19 something will change!!!” he wrote in emailed comments.

Reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Christophe Van Der Perre; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Alistair Bell

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