African coastal populations are having to adapt to a new reality.
Schools, houses, cemeteries. From Senegal to Benin, via Morocco, entire neighbourhoods are gradually being eaten away by the waters.
World Heritage Sites – such as the archaeological sites in northern Sinai, Egypt, or the Sine Saloum National Park in southern Senegal – are not being spared.
A study published in 2022 in the journal Nature Climate Change draws an alarming conclusion: Of 284 African heritage sites, 56 are under threat from rising sea levels in the coming century.
This phenomenon is down to the combined effects of melting continental ice and the ice cap, as well as rising sea temperatures.
The effects in West Africa, where a third of the population lives in coastal areas, are potentially devastating.
“For the moment, erosion in West Africa is mainly due to the lack of sand caused by the construction of hydroelectric dams, which result in a lack of sedimentation,” explained Rafael Almar, a physical oceanographer at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (Institute for Development Research, IRD).
“As a result, there is less sand in the rivers. As for flooding in coastal areas, this may be due to the clearing of mangrove swamps in estuaries, but it may also be caused by rampant urbanisation.”
As an expert in the WACA-VAR (West African Coastal Areas) programme, Almar is helping to map the impact of climate change in the region.
There are three main areas of study:
“The coasts of West Africa are sandy and very low-lying, making them highly mobile and prone to erosion. These coasts flood quickly and are therefore sensitive to any change.”
According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates, sea levels are likely to rise by almost a metre by 2100 in a +4°C global warming scenario.
In the short term, between 108 million and 116 million Africans living in coastal areas will be at risk beginning in 2030. The rate of increase is accelerating: There will be 265 million people living there by 2100.
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