Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Improved Coastal Planning Required

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by Mark Shircore

(originally published in the July 2010 edition of The ADVOCATE)

Coastal erosion, flooding and shoreline retreat are serious problems all along the coast of West Africa. A combination of human impact, inappropriate management interventions, climate change and sea-level rise are the major causes.

The small fishing village of Totope, on Ghana’s east coast, is one example of a community already struggling with an eroding coastline. According to Associated Press, every few years the villagers must abandon their homes to the sea and build new ones nearby; the villagers don’t have the money to purchase land elsewhere. “When I was young, you had to climb a coconut tree to see the sea,” said Alex Horgah, a 57-year-old fisherman. The old men of the village say every year the shore advances a few yards.

This is a story which threatens to be repeated in many communities along the coastline of West Africa, from Nigeria to Senegal. Perhaps the biggest challenge is faced by West Africa’s largest city, Lagos, where around 15 million people live on islands, along beaches and on the edge of lagoons. The Lagos government is attempting to tackle the threat by improving the canals and drains which limit flooding. But are they doing enough? Already NGO’s are warning that the entire coast along the Gulf of Guinea could be dramatically different by the end of the century.

Not only is the loss of land a major problem, but the sea water, as it rises, can contaminate water sources for people and agriculture. This is a problem the people of Ada, a small town on the Volta river below the Akosombo dam, know only too well. According to Will Lorimer, writing in Atlantic Rising, mismanagement of the river system has reduced the flow of water to the town, allowing sea water to encroach upstream and pollute the water purification plants.

The problem starts at the source of the river in northern Ghana, where deforestation has decreased the supply of water into the river and increased evaporation rates. With demand for water from the Akosombo dam increasing as urban centres expand, even less water will flow to downstream communities like Ado, allowing sea water to infiltrate further upstream. “We have results from Ada when there is a spring tide. The salt levels gets up to 350mg per litre, 150mg in excess of our limit of 200mg per litre,” confirms Evans Balaara, head of water quality at the Ghana Water Company.

Contamination of groundwater looms as a major problem in West African coastal communities. Even where urban areas appear unscathed, sea level rise will still challenge towns and cities by threatening the underground water supplies from which millions of people across the region draw their water. As the people of Ada can attest, “sea level rise didn’t begin with flooding or beach erosion, it began when the first person turned on their tap to taste the salty water infecting their waterways”.

But sea level rise is not the only culprit, poor coastal planning in West Africa means that large parts of the shoreline are vulnerable. In a paper published in 2009, Isaac Boateng of the University of Portsmouth highlights that the low-lying sandy areas on Ghana’s eastern coast, such as the Volta Delta and Keta lagoon, could be profoundly affected by a combination of poor management and rising sea levels. Already at the current sea level, this area is experiencing erosion of 3 metres per year. Yet, in spite of the present and expected threat to life and property, there is no formal management plan for Ghana’s shoreline. Mr Boateng called for a more holistic study of the shoreline to develop an integrated shoreline management plan (ISMP). According to Mr Boateng, an ISMP “could facilitate better understanding and reduction of the risks of coastal erosion and flooding, which may ultimately result in the occupation and economic development of the coastal zone in a more environmentally acceptable and sustainable way. In addition, it would raise awareness and encourage critical thinking about the most appropriate and sustainable measures needed for the long-term conservation of wetlands, historical heritage and other special sites of scientific interest in the coastal zones”.

Written by Mar(k)

August 12, 2010 at 5:35 pm

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