Despite dire warnings against drinking the tap water in Senegal, my first week in Dakar I forgot and rinsed my toothbrush in it. When I realized my mistake I shuddered in horror and tossed the toothbrush in the trash. Since then I have paid anywhere from 500 – 1,500 CFA for a 1.5 liter bottle of water. At 2 liters a day drinking water was costing me about $12 a week. Eventually I found places to buy water in more economical 10 liter jugs but when a broken sewer pipe caused a two week water shortage in Dakar, the supply of 10 liter jugs dried up all over the country.
Saint Louis centers on an island in the middle of the Senegal River so there is water all around. Yet, during the dry season, the city can go for months without receiving a drop of rain. Shifting currents drive salt water from the ocean into the river, turning its waters brackish so the city draws its water from inland sources rather than the river.
The urban master plan of 1828 imposed an orthogonal grid on Saint Louis. After his appointment as Governor in 1854, Louis Faidherbe had the sewer lines installed and then subdivided lots on the island for homes and businesses, yet 21st century Saint Louis suffers from deferred maintenance issues. The city has been upgrading the storm water drainage pipes to reduce the risk of flooding but the construction has not improved water pressure.
This ruined water tower two blocks north of our apartment is one reason water pressure is so precarious.
Water service cuts off without warning for hours at a time so most households try to keep a reserve on hand. The most affluent citizens add electric pumps to their reserve tanks so that they can enjoy uninterrupted showers when the flow of city water slows to a trickle, but living on the 4th floor without a pump makes it even harder for water to reach our taps in a steady stream. Washing my hair has therefore become an ordeal because more often than not, the water cuts out just when my hair is full of shampoo.