“We Have Nowhere to Go” — Sea Level Rise is Devouring the Coast of West Africa

“I am very afraid for the future of this place. Sooner or later we will have to leave, but we have nowhere to go.” — Buabasah a resident of Fuvemeh, a West African town being swallowed by the sea as reported by Matteo Fagotto.

*****

A new, must read, report out in Foreign Policy by Matteo Fagotto highlights a widespread ongoing disruption due to sea level rise to the vulnerable coastal region of West Africa. And, for years now, scientists at the IPCC have been warning that just such an event could occur.

The coastal zone of West Africa stretches for 4,000 miles from Mauritania to the Congo. It includes highly populated regions surrounding low elevation cities and towns in such African nations as Gabon, Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, The Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Liberia, and Ghana. Most industrial activity and food-growing is located near the coast of these nations — accounting for 56 percent of GDP for the region according to the World Bank. And coastal population concentrations in regions vulnerable to sea level rise are very high. In all about 31 percent of the 245 million people dwelling in West Africa live in this fragile land.

global-sea-level-rise

(Due to global warming and glacial melt spurred by fossil fuel burning, oceans are now rising at their fastest rates in 10,000 years. As a result, many coastal towns and cities around the world are under increasing threat of flooding. In West Africa, a recent report by Foreign Policy paints a picture of broadening inundation. Unfortunately, current rates of ocean rise are far slower than what human-caused climate change may set off over the coming decades. Image source: AVISO.)

Most of the coastline features a lagoonal geography that is very low-lying. Meanwhile, funds for coastal defenses like planting mangrove forests and pumping in sand to re-nourish beaches are difficult to procure. As a result, these large cities and population centers are highly vulnerable to impacts from human-forced climate change related to sea level rise.

The Great Flooding Begins

Ever since the early 1990s, scientific reports have highlighted the vulnerability of West Africa to inundation, flooding and loss of key industries, food growing and infrastructure due to glacial melt, thermal expansion of ocean waters set off by warming, and an increase in storm strength in the North Atlantic. All impacts that scientists feared would be coming due to a human-forced warming of the world. Now, just such an inundation and loss appears to be underway.

According to the recent report out in Foreign Policy, and according to other eyewitness accounts and news reports coming in from coastal West Africa during recent years, sea level rise and increasing erosion due to powerful storms continue to produce worsening impacts for the region. In one of the most glaring instances, the swelling surf is now in the process of destroying a Ghana fishing village (Fuvemeh) that recently housed 2,500 people. Homes, coconut plantations, and fishing wharfs have all been taken by the seas and swirling sands. But Fuvemeh is just one of thousands of like communities now confronting an onrush of waves that each year bites off as much as 80-120 feet of coastline.

(House destroyed by waves in Fuvemeh, Ghana. Sadly, sea level rise related impacts like this are now being seen all up and down West Africa’s 4,000 mile long coastline.)

Moreover, Foreigh Policy finds that megacities like Lagos (population 5.6 million) and large cities like Accra (population 1.6 million) are increasingly threatened by the encroaching waters. In Accra, the rainy season now causes an annual inundation of sections of the city — a new impact that resulted in 25 people losing their lives last year. Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania and home to approximately 1 million people, now sees the loss of 80 feet of coastline along its Atlantic shore every year. Meanwhile, parts of Togo lost 118 feet of shore line last year alone. Along the coast from Gambia to Senegal and including communities like Cotonou and Lome, growing numbers of houses, hotels, restaurants, roads, and even water treatment plants are now little more than washed out husks and crumbling bits of infrastructure — lapped by a rising tide.

Heartbreak, Loss of Homes, Dislocation

As the waters rise, residents are forced to move inland. Younger, more mobile residents have often fled the region entirely. Others have rebuilt their homes further inland only to have them flooded again. Ocean productivity is on the decline in the region. Fish and other animals that supported coastal industries have migrated northward or succumbed to worsening ocean conditions. The combined losses have produced economic hardships as coastal cities see increasing gang activity, drug use, theft and violence.

Overall, the United Nations estimates that 5-10 percent of West Africa’s GDP will ultimately be lost due to impacts related to sea level rise. And the recent report by Foreign Policy points to growing evidence that the crisis is starting now. But the ever-more-human toll is nothing less than heart-wrenching.

West Africa Just One of Many Vulnerable Regions

Reports by Foreign Policy and others on the plight of coastal West Africa shines a light on sea level rise related hardships and losses throughout that region. However, numerous low-lying stretches of coastline are now facing similar problems. Bangladesh is currently seeing a wave of mass migration inland due to sea level rise related flooding. The Mi Cong Delta region is seeing its rice farms threatened by an influx of salt water. The Indus River Delta region in Pakistan is also experiencing mass migration away from coastlines. Coastal Pacific Islands are facing an existential threat due to sea level rise now. And the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coasts are facing their own problems from worsening storm surge flooding and more widespread nuisance flooding due to sea level rise. So what we’re seeing in West Africa is part of a much larger overall global context.

Links:

West Africa is Being Swallowed by the Sea

West Africa Map

AVISO Sea Level Rise

IPCC: The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

Ghana’s Coastal Erosion — The Village Buried in Sand

Ghana Accra Floods

How The World’s Oceans Could be Running out of Fish

Drugs and Crime Mobilise International Support For West Africa Coast Initiative

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Wili

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75 Comments

  1. Tangier, Virginia (and island in the Chesapeake Bay) is getting swallowed too. Vice News on HBO covered it last night. Just incredible. So much of the land has been lost to sea level rise since it was settled.

    Here’s another article on it from earlier in the year:

    http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/article_ef4beb8e-c914-5fe8-a0cb-942e60be258f.html

    Reply
  2. coloradobob

     /  October 25, 2016

    I would add to the threat list, all to “onshore” oil and gas infrastructure in the Niger Delta.

    Reply
    • Hold on, didn’t they harden their infrastructure because they knew climate change was coming even as they were officially denying it?

      Reply
  3. coloradobob

     /  October 25, 2016

    The Realities of Sea-Level Rise in Miami’s Low-Income Communities
    While Miami Beach pours money into adaptation, residents in other parts of the county are waiting for the help they need.

    MIAMI—The water rose quickly. At noon on a brilliantly sunny day here, several blocks from the beach, a lake of salt water suddenly appeared in the street, filtered up from the porous limestone that resides underneath the whole county of Miami-Dade. On the corner of 79th Street and 10th Avenue in the Shorecrest neighborhood, people wandered outside their apartment buildings to stare at the rising water, sloshing through in rain boots to take out their trash.

    “It’s been like this for a few days now, rising and then receding and then rising again,” says Jessica Benitez, a resident who moved to Miami from her native Venezuela about a month and a half ago. She says she didn’t know these apartments would flood before she moved into them, and she still doesn’t know how to predict when the water is going to rise. She got home from the store a few days ago to find her street completely flooded, and she tied plastic bags around her feet to get to her door. “[The city] has never told us anything. The water just sits there. It’s like there are no drains, and I don’t understand why,” she says.

    Link

    Reply
    • Miami’s in a fight against the tide from here on out. Sacrifice zones aren’t going to help matters and will only serve to fracture city unity.

      Reply
      • coloradobob

         /  October 25, 2016

        I like the way they describe the king tide. through a woman who’d never heard of “King Tides”, or that her apartment is sitting on rock sponge . This has to start killing plant life there very soon. Trees grass you name it. And anything that will rust . That Miami weather man on the last thread had real good chart on the increase of sunny day flooding. All that half a Billion dollar pumping plan ain’t gonna save their plants or fire plugs.

        Reply
        • The plumbing will help for about a decade or two. Maybe. After that, they’ll need something more significant.

        • Andy_in_SD

           /  October 26, 2016

          It is going to do a number on the aquifers as well. Between depletion and ocean level rise, the wells going dead will be along the lines of “pop pop pop” as opposed to a more gradual change.

        • SLR hits infrastructure first. It disrupts economic activity by doing things like (as you mention) threatening local water supplies, flooding out roads with increasing frequency, and hitting the near water level assets that can’t be effectively defended. The disruptions have a deleterious effect on city and community functioning. It also produces a drip, drip of people who leave the region because they basically don’t want to handle the hassle and harassment of ever more frequent flooding anymore. This generates depressed local economies and compounds the issue of capital flight.

          When you understand this aspect of climate change, it can be understandable why denial takes hold. People want to pretend that the better days of old are still here. To eek out one more good year. To delay the loss of property values. But it all just serves to generate an overall lack of preparedness and understanding. In effect, if the sea is going to rise by meters and big storms are probably on the way, then it’s better to get out before it’s too late. For city planners, this is basically an end of the world kind of scenario. What they’re looking at now is extending Miami’s lifespan. Another year, another decade. That’s what they’re fighting for now. Barring some kind of extraordinary feat of engineering that lets Miami exist in the ocean, that’s basically what we’re eventually looking at.

        • Robert,

          A feat of engineering on that scale may require something on the order of reinventing that area as skyscraper cities on stilts, connected by elevated rail freight and rapid rail transit. I was there when the Miami Metrorail opened in ’85. Dunno why they chose not to extend it, though; a tri-county wide system like that could really come in handy.

        • I’m not making a judgement as to whether or not something like that will happen. Clearly it would be well beyond any kind of public works Miami or this country has ever achieved.

        • I’m sure you’re right about that, Robert. But we’ve done lots of smaller ones and they add up. Of course the worst is providing drinking water.

  4. Nancy

     /  October 25, 2016

    We watched a new documentary about how the Monadnock (Southwest) Region of New Hampshire is dealing with increased precipitation due to climate change. The film is optimistic in that most of the towns in the area are taking measures to prevent devastating floods and there are many more solar installations. Bill McKibben is featured throughout the film (my hero!). You can watch the entire 40 minute documentary “From Hurricane To Climate Change” online.

    https://vimeo.com/channels/1062161/147529234

    Reply
  5. coloradobob

     /  October 25, 2016

    The live feed is up in 7 mins.

    Reply
  6. coloradobob

     /  October 26, 2016

    Sweet Jesus , I’m glad I’m not Elizabeth Kolbert. What a woman. She males me look like Howdy Doody. What a grim set of facts to haul around.

    Sweet Jesus, I wish we were all like Professor Pimm.

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  October 26, 2016

      Sweet Jesus, I wish we were all like Professor Pimm.

      He thinks we can make Hell come to brunch.

      Reply
      • It was one heck of an interview. Hate to say it, but we are tumbling down that rabbit hole, my friend. Would that I could do more to get people to resolve themselves to work together to stop it.

        Reply
    • Cate

       /  October 26, 2016

      lol cb, talk about a blast from the distant past. When I was six, I thought Alfred E Neuman and Howdy Doody were the same, uh, person.

      Reply
  7. coloradobob

     /  October 26, 2016

    Perhaps that’s why Trump’s sole donation to himself this month, according to the available records, came on Oct. 20, in the amount of just $2,574. Clinton gave her own campaign more money in October, $36,627, according to her filing.
    Trump has $34 million cash on hand, while Clinton, who leads him by an average of 6.1 points in the national polls, has $59 million.
    “The fact that all he’s given to the campaign in October is $2,500 certainly could be perceived as indicating that he’s given up on his own campaign and isn’t will to put anymore of his own money into a losing effort,” one campaign finance expert said. “Why would anyone else?”
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/25/donald-trump-s-100-million-money-bomb-is-a-dud.html

    Reply
    • Interesting point.

      I think it’s still going to be a bit of a fight. The spread is less than during Obama/McCain but quite a bit more than Obama/Romney. What appears to be democratic momentum in FL is certainly reassuring for us dems, but no reason to be complacent.

      Reply
  8. coloradobob

     /  October 26, 2016

    Reply
  9. June

     /  October 26, 2016

    Oxfam estimates that just 16 per cent of the $100 billion a year pledged by rich nations in 2009 to help poorer countries adapt to climate change and cut carbon emissions has been paid. A May United Nations Environment Programme report linked below says the cost of adapting to climate change in developing countries could rise to between $280 and $500 billion per year by 2050.

    Naturally they have a sterile, bureaucratic term for that: the adaptation finance gap. It will be illuminating to see if the Paris Agreement commitment of the developed countries to increase funding to developing countries for adaptation actually materializes.

    http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=27074&ArticleID=36171&l=en

    Reply
  10. wili

     /  October 26, 2016

    Meanwhile, across from the other side of the African continent, three years of drought are bringing disaster to Madagascar: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/madagascar-drought-hunger_us_580dbb32e4b0a03911ed7540

    Reply
  11. wili

     /  October 26, 2016

    2016 heat

    Reply
  12. Greg

     /  October 26, 2016

    Fond memories of travel in Togo, Nigeria and Benin with an African friend back in 1988. He hunted for pheasants with his dad, a doctor, who would exchange medical help with the villagers in exchange for hunting rights. While I was there I ate a lot of bird meat with buckshot for about a month and traveled in a very small dugout in the wetlands on the hunts. The wetlands were part of life there and the infrastructure is so simple among the poor that rebuilding is less cumbersome than finding new lands to settle, I suspect, but would welcome any local commentary. Iwan Baan Image of Lagos’ Makoko slum with a floating school

    Reply
  13. Greg

     /  October 26, 2016

    Tangier is really unique and its loss will be a tragedy for sure. Visited with family this last spring and the locals are the kindest welcoming folks you will find in these United States, with a European based history that goes back to captain Roger Smith in 1608 and, of course, native history that goes way, way back. All will be lost before this century is out for practical purposes.

    Reply
    • It’s a place sitting right there on the edge. Ironically, such locales can create a sense of peace. A kind of spiritual calm before the storm.

      Reply
  14. Keith Antonysen

     /  October 26, 2016

    An area titled the Sapphire Coast off the East Coast of Tasmania is about to define an area as being Industrial to allow for a salmon farm to be set up. Yet, waters off the East Coast have been warm for a number of years through the East Australian Current, now:

    http://oceancurrent.imos.org.au/news.php

    Reply
  15. The USA coastline from New Orleans all the way to New York will be one of the first regions to go underwater and it contains a lot of very expensive infrastructure. One metre of sea level rise will bankrupt the economy and it will happen this century and nothing can stop it. The USA ignored the science and backed its coal and oil companies and it was a very expensive and tragic mistake.

    Reply
    • I dont think it was a mistake. Mistake is something you can correct somehow. I think it was a feature…

      best,
      Alex

      Reply
      • To trade the present for this kind of future was absolutely a mistake. People probably didn’t believe that the events predicted would happen. At least not enough to take them seriously. Such lack-foresight is one of the things that has plagued us since the beginning. It’s how we’ve tended to get into these tight spots time and time again throughout our history.

        Reply
  16. Greg

     /  October 26, 2016


    Khoudia Diop is West Africa to me. She is from Senegal and had to fight there to be recognized because of her skin tone and now the same here. But she is fighting to be a model and show empowerment for women. Waters will rise but, as the earlier thread pointed out, social infrastructure and social justice will profoundly determine human outcomes.

    Reply
  17. Spike

     /  October 26, 2016

    Good to see the climate related problems in poor communities being covered by FP. Too often media coverage centres on the problems in the affluent world.

    Reply
    • It was a bit of a break in the usual web of silence. So it brings a bit of a sigh of relief. Thing is, we’re seeing these kinds of events happening all over the globe now. West Africa is just one of many and multiplying sea level rise hot spots.

      Reply
  18. Cate

     /  October 26, 2016

    I’m wondering where dt has got to.

    Reply
  19. Cate

     /  October 26, 2016

    More on Dr Gordon Hamilton, who died last week in a snowmobile accident in Antarctica.

    This piece is published in The Courier, the leading newspaper in his hometown of Dundee, a city with a proud polar heritage indeed.

    https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/dundee/303984/dundee-born-antarctic-scientist-dies-plunging-crevasse/

    Reply
    • June

       /  October 26, 2016

      Thank you for this link, Cate. The video clip gives a sense of who he was, and it is clear that he will be missed.

      Reply
    • So this man was one of the heroes of our time. He went out there into those dangerous conditions so the rest of us could get a sense of the fundamental changes now taking place in our world.

      Reply
      • Hilary

         /  October 27, 2016

        I was v pleased to read Scribblers have been covering this v sad accident..
        This week 10 years ago I was at Scott Base looking at this spectacular view out over the ice shelf to White Island:
        http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/scott-base/webcams-and-weather/
        All the scientists and staff at Scott Base & Mcmurdo Station will be terribly upset that this happened, as will his former colleagues; Antarcticians are a very close knit community.

        Reply
  20. miles h

     /  October 26, 2016

    “Two new studies by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine (UCI), detect the fastest ongoing rates of glacier retreat ever observed in West Antarctica and offer an unprecedented direct view of intense ice melting from the floating undersides of glaciers. ” http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2506/studies-offer-new-glimpse-of-melting-under-antarctic-glaciers/

    Reply
    • Looking at these yesterday. It’s nuts how fast some of these massive glaciers are going down.

      Reply
      • miles h

         /  October 26, 2016

        the antarctic appears to be gearing up for some major action – the sleeping giant awakes. it’s such a difficult place to study and data is only from very recent times.
        though shackleton, scott, and mawson all kept good records from the early 1900’s, but only very local.
        ….btw… if you get time, read Captain Mawson’s account of his exploration, “the home of the blizzard”, its an astonishing story, right up there with shackletons tales. mawson set up base in the worst place in the world – its worth reading about just for the statistics on temp and wind speeds…. amazing that humans managed to exist there!!… and if youre feeling more boreal, check Jennifer Niven “the ice master” …and account of mc.kinleys disastrous voyage to the arctic. gives a clear picture of what the arctic used to be like before it melted. all great tales of human stoicism, fortitude and endurance.

        Reply
  21. Off-topic to this article, but interesting: a study published on Nature shows the mechanism that allows the Amazon to form its atmospheric rivers: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature19819.html?cookies=accepted

    Reply
  22. wili

     /  October 26, 2016

    Sandy’s Lessons Lost: Jersey Shore Rebuilds in Sea’s Inevitable Path

    “As people in towns like Toms River rushed to rebuild, they did not retreat from the coast. Instead, at the waterfront, so much—houses, businesses and sand dunes—is coming back bigger, stronger and taller than ever before.

    Sandy’s storm surge broke through the barrier island in the town of Manatoloking, next to Toms River, allowing the bay to rise 4 feet in an hour. But FEMA did not include such a scenario in its model.

    …even without storm surges there will be daily tidal inundation on Jersey Shore waterfront properties within decades.”

    https://insideclimatenews.org/news/25102016/hurricane-sandy-new-jersey-shore-rebuild-climate-change-rising-sea-chris-christie

    Reply
    • Sea level rise and increasing peak storm intensities basically ensure that the next major event will be worse. No lessons learned on this one. Blithe denial again seems to be the rule of the day. But it’s pretty clear that Christie (a climate change denier) did absolutely nothing to help the situation.

      Reply
    • June

       /  October 26, 2016

      Very good article. It astonishes me that FEMA flood insurance rate maps are not allowed by regulation to include future risk assessments, like models of sea level rise.

      Reply
  23. John McCormick

     /  October 26, 2016

    “We have nowhere to go”. That is what millions of young adults, retired couples and elderly will say when their homes become stranded assets and the only dwelling they can afford. Family members might take them in but the terrible fact is most people cannot walk away from their mortgage to move to higher ground. Trillions of dollars of real estate becoming unmarketable because of sea level rise and extreme storms.

    Reply
    • Assistance of some form will be required. Kind of makes the pleas by the wealthy to keep cutting their taxes sound a bit hollow, doesn’t it?

      Reply
  24. miles h

     /  October 26, 2016

    interesting article, mostly for the great graphic of warming trends since 1600AD http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-25/climate-warming-'started-about-180-years-ago'/7773270?topic=enviro

    Reply
  25. June

     /  October 26, 2016

    Nice post on the Category 6 blog.

    Sea Ice Extent Is Near Record Lows–South as Well as North

    https://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=3490

    Reply
  26. Today’s Automatic Earth links an article on the Antarctic Ice Sheet, particularly the Amundsen Embayment and its destabilization — the complete melting of all the ice therein is now “unstoppable” and it holds 4 feet of SLR all by itselvis. It’s only a matter of how soon, as little as ten years, and most who are familiar with the subject think it will be sooner (as in one or more decades) rather than later.

    Reply
  27. Matteo Fagotto

     /  October 28, 2016

    ….

    Reply
    • 1. This is the first communication I’ve received from you.
      2. I’ve attempted to contact Matteo Fagotto on facebook and twitter with no reply or success.
      3. Currently, I have some reason to doubt you are the actual Matteo Fagotto.
      4. Given numerous attributions and use of fair use material I do not think there is an issue with this article.
      5. If you are, actually, Matteo Fagotto, I absolutely respect your work and we can move forward from there. But you need to confirm this with me by replying on facebook or twitter.

      Reply
  1. “We Have Nowhere to Go” — Sea Level Rise is Devouring the Coast of West Africa | GarryRogers Nature Conservation

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