Ghana's coast dwellers flee encroaching seas

by Suleiman Mustapha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 28 January 2011 15:52 GMT
Residents of the coastal town of Azizanya are abandoning their homes as rising seas and heavy tidal surges eat away at buildings

ADA, Ghana (AlertNet) - Residents of the coastal town of Azizanya are abandoning their homes as rising seas and heavy tidal surges eat away at buildings and vegetation along the region’s shoreline.

Azizanya, a 45-minute drive from Ghana’s main port city of Tema, lies on a spit of land jutting off the south-eastern Ada peninsula in the Greater Accra Region. It is one of 25 coastal settlements the University of Ghana has warned could be swallowed up by the ocean in coming decades.

Kwasi Appeaning-Addo of the university’s oceanography department says rising sea levels are conspiring with coastal erosion to slowly submerge communities along the West African nation’s coast.

Devastating sea intrusion has already caused damage running into millions of dollars, and is turning the fishing post of Azizanya into a ghost town.

CHASED AWAY BY THE SEA

Walking along the sandy beach, 52-year-old fisherman Paul Ocansey points to a pile of crumbling, dilapidated concrete walls.

“That building used to be our church, and our family house was just nearby... The sea was becoming destructive, so we had no choice but to move to Ada Foah,” he explains. He sits on the edge of a caved-in grave of one Inspector Wellington whose remains were buried there some 45 years ago.

“Those lines of uprooted coconut trees used to border our playground and vegetable gardens,” he says, as waves pound the shore.

Once a vibrant fishing settlement, this small coastal town is gradually being reduced to ruins. Little remains of several houses but broken walls.

Even some buildings standing 200 meters from the coast have not been spared. Abandoned by owners, who have left to seek a better life elsewhere, their ripped-off roofs and decaying, algae-infested walls display the scars of tidal waves.

RIPPLE EFFECT OF GLOBAL WARMING

Azizanya is one of Ghana’s most vulnerable coastal communities, under siege from the sea and losing around six meters of land each year.

Scientists say sea erosion is one of the many ripple effects of human-induced global warming.

The U.N.'s climate change panel has predicted that an increase in the temperature of the earth's atmosphere could raise the world’s oceans by 18 to 59 cm (7 to 23 inches) this century. Some low-lying parts of coastal Africa, especially parts of densely populated major cities in West Africa, could be under water as early as 2018.

Yvo de Boer, the former head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told a conference in Accra in 2008 that "up to 1,000 square km of land may be lost in the Volta Delta owing to sea-level rise and inundation".

The damage wrought by rising sea levels is amplified by increasingly violent tropical storms, which can create sea surges up to 3 m (10 feet) high.

In August 2007, a storm some 5,000 km off the coast of Lagos destroyed protective beach barriers, highlighting the vulnerability of Africa’s west coast.

In a 2006 report, Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the ocean is encroaching inland by 1.5 to 2 metres along the country’s 539 km shoreline annually. The most risky areas were identified as Ada Foah, Azizanya and eastern parts of Keta, areas that are recording an average loss of 4 metres per year.

THREAT TO WATER SUPPLIES

According to the University of Ghana’s Appeaning-Addo, for every one metre rise in sea level, Ghana will lose at least 110 square km of land to the ocean.

He explains that even where urban areas appeared unscathed, rising seas pose a challenge to the water supply as salty sea water can contaminate fresh water sources and underground water reserves.

Increasing salinity will make the ground water both undrinkable and unsuitable for agriculture, leading to food and water insecurity, he warns.

Not all those living in the path of the advancing ocean can afford to relocate to safer land.

While Azizanya these days seems largely deserted, a few people remain to defy the encroaching sea. Among them is 45-year-old fisherman Evans Tutu Assibey.

“Many have left, but I have no option but to stay because there is no other place for me to lay my head. What we are doing now is fortify the base of our walls and hope that the government will do something for us one day,” he says.

The minister for water resources, works and housing, Alban Sumani K. Bagbin, says the government is considering constructing a sea defence wall to protect coastal communities under threat from tidal waves. But that may come too late for Azizanya’s fast-dwindling population.

“What we are going through is imminent displacement from our land that has been home to us for years,” Assibey says.

Suleiman Mustapha is a business journalist based in Accra. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

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