With about one third of the sub-region’s population hosted by the coastal areas, the World Bank in a 2017 report noted that 56 per cent of West Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) is generated in the areas.
However, these coastal areas that hold so much economic potential for some of the world’s developing economies are now very much troubled.
Erosion, flooding, ocean surge and pollution are major causes of the dangerous degradation that is causing the sub-region both human and economic woes.
According to the global financial institution, “environmental degradation in the coastal areas of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo cost $3.8 billion, or 5.3% of the four countries’ GDP in 2017.”
Nigeria has also continued to experience a fair share of the ugly trend with thousands of homes and businesses already washed away by the furious ocean.
For instance, more than 2,000 residents were reportedly displaced and about 200 houses estimated to have been washed away in 2020 alone in Ayetoro, a coastal community in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, South-west Nigeria.
Nigerian researchers to the rescue
Amidst the gloom enveloping the subregion and the world by extension, over the fast degenerating environmental degradation of the coasts, some young Nigerians have developed an innovation to enhance coastal adaptation and resilience against climate change.
Tagged; “Enhancing Adaptation and Resilience against Multi-Hazards along West Africa’s Coasts (EARWAC)”, the innovation is targetted at improving the preparedness of affected coastal communities by driving decision-making processes by local authorities and possible regional coordination of responses.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter on the significance of the project, a co-lead, Oghenekevwe Oghenechovwen, describe EARWAC project as a one-stop-shop dashboard for data necessary to provide solutions to the current climate crisis.
“By providing hazard early warnings on a seasonal basis from its observation and assessment, this project aims to improve self-preparedness, response coordination and disaster risk management in at-risk coastal communities across West Africa,” he said.
Mr Oghenechovwen said the project is being funded by the European Space Agency and Future Earth, and will be launched at the forthcoming United Nations climate change conference- Conference of the Parties [COP26] in November.
On the kind of the information that will be shared publicly through this initiative, the project co-lead said; “On coastal erosion, the kind of final product that we will have is something that tells you about when and where erosion is happening, and the rate of how the shoreline is changing.
“On flood rates, we are going to talk about areas that are flood zones, areas that are vulnerable, places that have at-risk populations to flood as well as the location and extent of future coastal flooding.
“For pollution, what we will also provide is information on the detection of the sources of pollutants. For example, if there is an oil spillage, we are able to see that with our datasets and then we are able to detect the source of that pollutant and how this flow will evolve.”
According to him, the researchers have just finished a broad survey which covered 11 countries where they talked to 669 people and 29 experts. The countries are Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Senegal, Benin Republic, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo and Guinea.
“One of the insights obtained from the survey is that the people surveyed prioritised receiving information from the local news media, government TV and social media. So, information from this project will be disseminated primarily through these channels,” Mr Oghenechovwen added.
‘No climate adaptation plans for coastal communities’
According to the partnership and stakeholder consultation lead of the project, Ibukun Adewumi, most countries in the subregion do not have plans related to climate change adaptation or resilience for the coastal communities.
He said preliminary results of the survey indicate that most of the countries do not have plans related to climate change adaptation or resilience for most of the coastal communities “and so far we discovered that those necessary facilities that are needed to forestall either sea-level rise or coastal erosion are not there. The people mentioned that they would like to see those things happening like developing storm breakers or dikes where necessary.”
“Most of them are farmers or fishermen or women that depend on the coast for their livelihood and this is more pressing to them because they do not want to lose their source of livelihood and…they want something fast to be done so that they will not go out of business or they will not have to beg for food because this also has to do with food security,” he added.
Mr Oghenekevwe also explained that; “Just about six per cent of the 669 people we interviewed felt that their local authorities, communities or countries were well-prepared to respond to hazards. On the expert side, we saw good agreement that they could respond to cases of marine pollution but other hazards were low, particularly coastal flooding.”
Call for improved observation, government support
While calling for government partnerships and support, the researchers also advocated improved long-term climate observation and geospatial data collection.
They said the environment is a pillar of sustainability, and so “going forward especially at COP26, we would love to see a renewed sense of how we highlight the role of the ocean in our region particularly reflecting in our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in our commitments particularly at COP and other regional climate change negotiation meetings.”
The team also called for the support of governments in the region to scale the project beyond its current state.
Mr Adewunmi said: “we believe we can scale this project beyond what it is currently, whereby we can add more hazards to the dashboard that we are trying to create. In fact, we have the capacity to also integrate socio-economic data, particularly for COVID-19 and how it is impacting the coastal community.
“And of course, there is a strong correlation between socio-economic indices with climate change because anthropogenic stressors are also the major contributors to CO2 emissions. So these are the areas we would like to have governments’ financial intervention to scale up this project. For us, we believe this should serve the purpose of a blueprint and once we have support from governments not only in Nigeria but other West African countries we can expand the scope of this project beyond what it is currently.
“Most countries now, early this year or late last year have been updating their profile for their NDCs. We saw that the issues of coastal zone adaptation and resilience to climate change are not very pronounced within those NDCs.
“In fact, the need to emphasise the socio-economic potential of both marine and coastal zones to the countries and also to the societies are quite important. So these are aspects that we can inculcate in the project in terms of awareness and advocacy and we think for the sustainability of this project we will also need government support because data isn’t stagnant.”
Seven Nigerians who are alumni of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) are taking part in the project which has the potential of rescuing the subregion from the biting consequences of environmental degradation.
The team’s co-lead, Mr Ogehenekevwe, is currently a researcher in climate dynamics at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
On his part, Mr Adewumi currently works as a project officer for the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership, in Sydney, Australia.
Other members of the team are Adebowale Daniel, a specialist in Geospatial Analysis; Samuel Akande, an expert on Land-Sea Interaction and Ocean-Climate Modelling, who also serves as a co-lead; Yusuff Adeniyi Giwa, an expert in Artificial Intelligence Ethics and Data Analytics; a Remote Sensing and Earth Observations specialist, Rufai Balogun, and also Victory Umurhurhu whose area of specialisation is Project Management.
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