On the long beach of Hann Bay in Dakar, a lone man, equipped with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, tirelessly collects piles of garbage in such quantities that the task takes on a mythological air. The smell is pestilential. A few meters away, a pipe carries a black mixture of wastewater from households and factories into the Atlantic Ocean.

Once considered one of the most beautiful coves in Africa, the former idyllic stretch of fine sand of around twenty kilometers adjoining the port of Dakar has become the waste dump for a rapidly increasing population and a industry in continuous expansion. The majority of Senegal’s manufacturing industry is located along the bay and discharges its effluent directly there. Ocean pollution is reaching worrying levels.

The State has been promising for more than twenty years to tackle the cleanup. A depollution project launched in 2018 with the financial support of the French Development Agency (AFD), Invest International, the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) and the European Union is stalling. The National Sanitation Office (ONAS) has just announced the resumption of work suspended for months. Locals have been begging for things to change for a long time.

“We have been told for years that there is a project, but nothing changes. I don’t believe it anymore,” says Daouda Kane, 45, in despair, sitting on the seaside. A few meters away, a woman pours the remains of her lunch pot onto the beach which is teeming with insects. “Here, you cast your nets, you bring back garbage,” complains Modou Ndong, a 53-year-old fisherman. “And we get sick,” he assures us, referring to the occasional appearance of pimples on his skin.

“High toxicity” of the place

In some places it is almost impossible to see the sand under the trash. At regular intervals of a few hundred meters, wastewater pipes flow into the sea, blood red at the slaughterhouse, black for discharge from the chemical industries and the Senta tannery. The throat burns anyone who comes near it.

Researcher Amidou Sonko, who works for the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), demonstrated the “high toxicity” of the place. Its analyzes reveal a concentration of the Escherichia coli bacteria 13 to 100 times higher than the authorized limit and the presence of salmonella. He also observed quantities of enterococci, microplastics, aluminum, chromium and zinc that far exceed standards.

So many threats to human skin, lungs or eyes, but also to biodiversity, he specifies. The development of certain species is affected in this natural fish reproduction area.

However, Seyni Badiane, a young father, swims with his daughters aged 2 and 5 about thirty meters from a canal which discharges green water. “It’s the only beach in the neighborhood, so we come here,” he says. “We are Africans, so we are used to it,” he adds.

“Convince industries to participate”

“No one can stop children from swimming here,” laments Mbacké Seck, who has been campaigning for clean-up for more than twenty-five years. “We don’t understand this delay. The need is there, the money is there. The negative impact is there in our daily lives. What is stopping this project from moving forward? “, he asks.

The French group Suez is building a wastewater treatment plant on the coast intended to treat 26,000 m3 per day for 500,000 inhabitants. It must be put into service at the beginning of 2025, assures the AFD, one of the main donors. But the rest of the work was suspended for more than a year and a half due to the bankruptcy of the company responsible for laying the main pipe connecting the port area to the wastewater treatment plant, says Alassane Dieng, project coordinator. at ONAS. “The big difficulty is convincing industries to participate,” underlines Mr. Dieng, when they occupy 63% of the urban area according to a 2018 impact study.

They will be connected to the network on condition of setting up pretreatment units and will pay an industrial fee. If they do not comply with the rules, a “very dissuasive” pollution tax is planned, much higher than that in force today, he says. Alassane Dieng promises that the entire project, with a total cost of around 95 billion CFA francs (145 million euros), will be completed by the end of 2025.