Monday, July 25, 2005

Rain and Development

This morning from about 8:45 to maybe 10:30 it rained a driving, thrashing rain. Normally I leave for work at about 8:50, but I didn't want to arrive soaked so I figured I could wait out the rain. By 9:30 I figured I was excessively late so I braved the rain; many a puddle had formed, including sufficient amounts of water around the building where I work that I had to remove my boots and socks, roll up my pants, and tread lightly. I got to work in bare feet and completely soaked, and only the director and the secretary were there.

Of course: in Senegal when it really rains you don't (can't) go to work because it becomes rather difficult to get to work: I live in walking distance, but the roads I walk along were completely flooded, and some roads flood deep enough that cars stall. A simple rain storm shuts the city down, and this is the most modern city in Senegal, perhaps in West Africa! And it shuts down not because there is so much rain (you occasionally get storms of equivalent intensity in Madison), but because the drainage system can't handle the rain, things get backed up and flooded (the yearly cleaning of the drainage system tends to start only after the first rain, though this year there have been crews about, scooping up the black muck). This isn't to say that the city doesn't try. I walk along "Canal IV," which is a drainage canal into the ocean; it's approximately as wide as a residential two way street and had been almost completely dried up: with only an hour of rain, water was maybe 13 feet high in the canal!

The rainy season lasts three months. During those three months there is the possibility of the city shutting down, which, when it does, prevents economic activity, resulting in monetary losses. Another vicious cycle: you are poor so you can't install a fully functioning drainage system (or maintain it); thus when it rains the city shuts down; thus you lose a half or a full days work here or there; thus you are poorer...

By 1:15 the streets were almost entirely dry (all the flooding on the main streets was gone); and the cool that came with the rain was replaced by an embracing humidity.

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