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COVID-19 Outbreak: A Time to Rethink our Urban Development Model and More

COVID-19 epidemic has been disrupting the entire human world, starting with China in December and now increasingly affecting Africa. Senegal is one of dozen African countries that has been hit by the virus with 1182 people infected and 9 deaths since March 2.

To cope with the pandemic, Senegal’s President Macky Sall declared a state of health emergency impacting all the country. This measure means that the country, as many others, is now slowing down with no circulation between its regions and cities, while its frontiers, schools, restaurants and hotels are closed.

Although there is a night curfew and social distancing measures have been taken during the day, the government decided not to be more radical like in many European countries or South Africa. And for good reasons.

In Senegal or any other country where economic and social conditions are similar, a total lockdown would be impossible to implement and we saw it with India where many urban dwellers fled to the countryside hoping they could feed themselves more easily.

Like in India, a large part of the Senegalese population, and even more in Dakar, lives one day at a time and needs to be out there to survive. Such a radical lockdown would deprive too many people of revenues and leave them to die. Many people already found themselves in precarious situations, especially the ones living in the streets who are chased away by the police at night while their source of living diminished if not disappeared.

Moreover, would a total lockdown be sufficiently efficient in urban contexts with poor sanitary conditions, promiscuity between and within households, lack of supply such as electricity or refrigerators for many?

Although there is no indication of an outbreak in Senegal, the number of positive cases continues to regularly increase and a lot of uncertainty remains. Even if the Senegalese healthcare system is on average better than in many West African countries, it would not be able to face more than it already does, especially in Dakar’s major hospitals. This crisis only highlights the weaknesses of many health systems and even more in West Africa where people are still dying from curable diseases because of health workers shortfalls and medical equipment shortages. Moreover, socio-spatial inequalities remain in Dakar with people suffering from a double burden: low-income and poor healthcare accessibility (Ndonky et al., 2015).

To finish this blog on an other positive note, can we say this pandemic is kind of a last resort way for nature to warn us? Not only we need nature to live but by destroying natural ecosystems, to which we all belong, we hurt ourselves in the most extreme ways, including by favouring diseases introduction among human societies. But what is also highlighted by this plague is the greatly problematic urban development which promotes its spread and makes it difficult to tackle without adverse socioeconomic effects. Even if it is far from being the first epidemic of this magnitude in human history, we can only hope that the exceptional media coverage and the global disruption will serve as a wake-up call for most. But nothing could be less certain.

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