Sand in the Sandwiches – the Milton Keynes of the Desert

Nouakchott was a kind of Milton Keynes in the desert.  This was partly due to the nature of colonial rule in the former French colony.  The old city of St Louis on what is now the border between Senegal and Mauritania, was the administrative centre.  When the division between the two countries was made, Senegal gained St Louis and its new capital of Dakar, whereas Mauritania had no sizeable cities at all.  The Moors who dominated Mauritania’s population were not used to “settlement”, they were Nomads who took advantage of the water regimes in the many oases of the desert to raise their flocks, grow minimal crops.  They were unfamiliar with building brick or concrete houses and living in the same place all year round.  But to administer the new country, government and its departments and a parliament had to be built, and all the diplomatic services from other countries needed a base, so a new town was spirited out of the scrubby desert about two hundred miles north of the border, called Nouakchott.  Several suburbs were planned around the major buildings, a new airport was built close to the city centre.  The city has expanded exponentially over the past fifty years, and now houses over 750 000 souls.  The public services have not kept up with this expansion, and many of the outer estates, which continue to blossom, are without mains water and sewerage, only the main arterial routes are tarmacced, and shops, businesses and offices are few and far between.  Worse still, because many of these areas are squatter settlements, the plots of land are developed in an ad hoc manner.  Many of these rough concrete structures are unfinished, the steel strengthening rods poking up out of one floor, unfinished walls already crumbling in the harsh heat and wind.  In amongst these ramshackle places, the occasional well constructed house, a family which despite their squatter status had managed to get enough money together to make a home for themselves.  But like so many houses these were inward looking and beyond the brightly coloured walls and ornate gates the road was a rutted sand track, littered with plastic and rubble, goats wandering wild and children playing with anything they could find.  Worst of all, in some of these suburbs there was no vegetation for miles around.  Building into the desert fringes, any scrub had been cleared well before the land was built on, the goats nibbling away at it all.  And without any resistance the desert was blowing into town, Little by little, sand was building up in the streets.  It would blow in over the city in sand storms, the whole city coming to a halt and sealing itself in till the danger past. In some places along the road the tarmac could hardly be seen beneath the dirty sand.  Every building was blasted with the stuff.  The merest whiff of a wind would drive stinging particles against your face.  The desert was coming to take back its land.

The view from our apartment - wide new boulevards

The view from our apartment – wide new boulevards

2 thoughts on “Sand in the Sandwiches – the Milton Keynes of the Desert

  1. Sand in the Sandwiches – the Milton Keynes of the Desert – String Knife and Paper

  2. Sand in the Sandwiches – the Milton Keynes of the Desert – String Knife and Paper

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