Life is shifting fast for coastal communities in West Africa. In some areas, coastlines are eroding as much as 10 meters per year. Stronger storms and rising seas are wiping out homes, roads and buildings that have served as landmarks for generations.
I was recently in West Africa to witness the effects of coastal erosion. To understand what’s going on, we took a three-country road trip, traveling from Benin’s capital Cotonou, along the coast to Lomé in Togo and then to Keta and Accra in Ghana. These three countries, among the hardest hit by coastal erosion, offer a snapshot of what is happening along the rest of the coast, from Mauritania, via Senegal to Nigeria.
On more than one occasion, we would be talking with local people who said: “Do you see those boats out there? That’s where my house used to stand.” With their homes swept out to sea and fishing limited, people have no choice but to move away to make a living. This trend is breaking up communities and changing the social fabric for large numbers of people, possibly millions in the future.
Aside from the human dimension, why are we so focused on coastal erosion? First, it has a detrimental, measurable impact on the economic and social development of our client countries. Second, while climate change is making it worse, coastal erosion is partially man-made and could be slowed down and managed more effectively, particularly if we take a regional approach.