The sea level is rising alarmingly

The sea level is rising alarmingly

On August 19, 2017, merchant Ndeye Seinabou Fall saw the sea swallow up her home. “It’s a day I’ll never forget,” she says with a sad face. She and her four children were transferred to a school, where they stayed for two months. For Lena Diop, 28, that memory is like an open wound. “The waves were getting bigger and bigger, up to six meters, so we followed the prefect’s advice and went to the Cheikh Touré school. The next day, only the destroyed walls remained. “We lost everything, we could only save our clothes,” she says.

The coastal strip of the Senegalese town of Saint Louis in northern Senegal appears to have been bombed. The remains of the walls of the destroyed houses emerge from the sand with their gallery of rusty irons, useless stones and collapsed roofs; skeletons from when the life of children’s races and the smell of freshly made food flooded the place. There was no doubt about it. The recurrent tidal waves that, in the last four years, have hit, wave by wave, the fishing districts of Guet Ndar, Ndar Toute, Santhiaba and Goxu Mbathie, causing 258 families, some 2,600 people, to lose their homes. In total, some 10,000 residents will have to leave because they live in the so-called risk zone.

On August 19, 2017, merchant Ndeye Seinabou Fall saw the sea swallow up her home. “It’s a day I’ll never forget,” she says with a sad face. She and her four children were transferred to a school, where they stayed for two months. For Lena Diop, 28, that memory is like an open wound. “The waves were getting bigger and bigger, up to six meters, so we followed the prefect’s advice and went to the Cheikh Touré school. The next day, only the destroyed walls remained. “We lost everything, we could only save our clothes,” she says.

But Ndeye Seinabou Fall and Lena Diop are gone. They had no choice. In 2017, they and their families and 580 others settled in the Khar Yalla wasteland, on the outskirts of Saint Louis, far from the sea, in a fragile tent located in a wasteland that was flooded in the wet season, without sanitation, drinking water or electricity. A real quagmire. Two months ago, the displaced habitants from Khar Yalla finally moved to a new location in Diougop, where they have been housed in 160 hard plastic huts, the so-called mobile units, in a space equipped with latrines, water points and solar panels. “We’re much better now,” says Lena Diop, who has just become a mother for the second time. “But what we want are real houses”.

But It wasn’t always like that. Thierno Gueye, 63, has spent his entire life in Goxu Mbathie, one of the four affected neighbourhoods. “Before, the beach was huge, hundreds of metres long” he says, pointing to the sea with his right arm. Saint Louis resident architect Suzanne Hirschi confirms: “There are old photos of colonial soldiers parading through an enormous expanse of sand, just imagine”.

Today, however, the waves easily reach the front row of houses and the meager beach disappears with each high tide. A preliminary report by the World Bank, the agency in charge of the emergency project for the affected population with funding of 27.2 million euros, says that every year five to six meters of beach are lost.

So what is the cause of that? The World Bank itself has commissioned an extensive study of the mouth of the Senegal River, where the city of Saint Louis is located, in order to understand a complex phenomenon. The technicians point to two human-induced factors: firstly, the intensive construction on the Barbary Language, the sandy peninsula on which part of the city sits, which intensifies the sand-dragging effect caused by the waves; secondly, the opening of a three-metre breach on that peninsula in 2003 to save Saint Louis from serious river flooding. Today, this opening is more than six kilometres long, has moved southwards and has changed the entire dynamics of the delta.

10,000 residents will soon have to leave the Saint Louis coast because they live in the risk zone.

However, the report states that “the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and changing storms, have accelerated the problem of erosion”. No wonder. Africa’s Atlantic coast is already suffering the consequences of rising ocean levels.

 A study carried out last March by the World Bank as part of the Coastal Area Management in West Africa program reveals that 56% of the coastline of the countries Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo arr losing an average of 1.8 metres of beach due to erosion (in Benin alone, four metres of beach disappear each year on 65% of its coastline). The cost of this phenomenon, added to floods and environmental deterioration, is 3.450 million euros per year. A bill that is too high for developing countries.

Until just a year ago, the inhabitants of this region of the Berber tongue (some 80.000 according to the last census in 2017), were still reluctant to move away. On November 18, 2018, 71-year-old fisherman Abdoulaye Fall was sleeping in his house on the shore of Guet Ndar beach when a wave knocked down the wall of his room, killing him. In Santhiaba, a little further north, the Eiffage company is building a small dyke on the sand thanks to French funding of 15 million. Work is progressing, but everyone agrees that this rock wall, barely a meter and a half high, will not be an obstacle to the fury of an increasingly emboldened sea.

Lena Diop and his baby inside a mobile house, where they have to live now after the rising of the sea level took their home away

Today, the population seems to have accepted their fate. At least the 10,000 who live in the 20-metre strip from the sea line established as a risk zone and who will be relocated in the next three years. The World Bank’s Saint Louis Emergency Recovery and Resilience project expects 660 mobile units for families of up to five people to be installed by June 2020. In 2023, it is estimated that the delivery of permanent housing will take place, also in Diougop, a settlement located 10 kilometres away.

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