A severe water shortage that has hit the Senegalese capital because of a damaged pipeline, leading to a dramatic decline in hygiene and sanitation, could cause the rapid spread of cholera and similar diseases, aid agencies have warned.
About 40 percent of the 3 million people in Dakar and its suburbs were cut off from clean water three weeks ago by damage to a pipeline that carries water to the capital from a purification plant in Keur Momar Sarr, 250km (155 miles) to the northeast.
"People are not going to die of thirst during this water crisis, they're going to die of disease," Chiran Livera, operations coordinator at the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Cholera is endemic in Senegal, so it is always present, but it can quickly become an epidemic if triggered by certain conditions such as poor sanitation,' Livera said.
Cholera spreads through the transfer of infected faecal matter in food and water. The bacteria causes severe diarrhoea, leading to dehydration and death unless the victim drinks large quantities of clean liquids.
The last time a cholera epidemic hit Dakar, in 2004, some 32,000 people caught the disease and 450 died. No cases of cholera have been reported since then, but the next few days are considered crucial.
"It's been almost three weeks since the start of the water shortage. It's usually around now that we start seeing if people are getting sick," Livera said. "Our biggest concern is what people in the most vulnerable areas are doing to get water."
Standpipes in unaffected areas draw long queues, and tankers take water to the worst hit districts, but other residents are using their initiative to cope with the problem.
In Camberene, a Dakar neighbourhood on the north side of the Cap Vert peninsula, an unusually high water table means boys can make rudimentary, shallow wells on the beach, using just a shovel and a set of car tyres.
"The water here is sweet and clean. We have no cases of illness. It's difficult to explain scientifically, but these things can be explained with religion," says Issa Diop.
The spiritual leader of the district's Layene community has told people the water is pure, so many of them do not boil it or use water purification tablets. "Due to the lack of water, people are now throwing their faeces into the sea. If the seas are rough or the tide is high, this washes back into the wells," Issa Diop says.
In Quartier Alimgueye in neighbouring Guédiawaye, one of the poorest parts of the city, women and children wait for hours to use the only well in the area - though the water is filthy.
"We're boiling the water like they do in the villages, and we're using Eau de Javel (a strong disinfectant) to clean the water from the well, but our children are still suffering from diarrhoea," said 54-year-old Aisatou Diop.
In Almadies, one of the richer parts of Dakar, residents are bathing with bottled water and using water from the swimming pools to flush toilets.
Those with access to the Internet have set up a Facebook page, Seaulidaire, where those with water can provide water to those without. The site has already connected 750 people who want to share water.
PRESIDENT MET BY PROTESTERS
President Macky Sall cut short his visit to the U.N. General Assembly last week to tackle the crisis, to be met by violent protests on his return to Dakar as youths burned tyres, smashed cars and shouted "eau secure" - a play on words in French meaning safe water and help.
Sall appealed to former colonial power France to help repair the damaged water pipeline after Senegalese engineers tried in vain to fix the problem.
Water should be running by the middle of this week, diplomatic sources in Dakar told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Senegalese engineers will temporarily fix the problem, while a French company will build a new part that will be airlifted into Keur Momar Saar in around two weeks," a Senegalese official said.
"There will almost certainly be another two-three day water cut as engineers replace the temporary fix with the new part made in France," the official said. The French firm, Degremont, build the pipeline some 10 years ago.
Sall came to power last year promising to fight corruption and improve basic services such as water and power.
He has been praised for arresting high-ranking figures from the previous government and putting in motion the trial of former Chadian dictator Hissen Habre, but is under pressure to deliver more tangible improvements in living conditions.