Mombasa. Dar-es-Salaam. Saint-Louis. What do these 3 cities have in common, other than being African cities? They're sinking, that's the factor they have in common. And they're sinking due to climate change.
A lot of the discussion being had on climate change often revolves around the western world and white-majority countries in general. So let's talk about how these three African cities are being sunk by climate change.
In 2009, it was reported that rising sea levels could sink Mombasa in just 20 years. Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya, is on the coastal plain, only about 45 metres above sea level. The scientists predicted that unless urgent mitigation measures were taken, a sea-level rise of just 0.3 metres would see 17 per cent of Mombasa (4,600 hectares) submerged. Due to rising sea levels, Mombasa's coastline has been eroding at 2.5-20cm per year. This has made coastal erosion a big threat to Mombasa's lives and infrastructure.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predictions report released in 2013, Mombasa and other parts of the East African coast could sink by 2080 as a result of rising water levels. Their predictions upheld predictions by previous scientists, stating "It is estimated that about 17 per cent of Mombasa will be submerged with a sea-level rise of only 0.3 metres." Furthermore, the report concluded that at the same time, large areas of Mombasa may be rendered uninhabitable as a result of flooding or waterlogging or will be agriculturally unsuitable due to salt stress.
The report comes in the background of Mombasa residents reminiscing about the days when the beach was farther into where the ocean is now. They used to play volleyball on the beach in the evening, one resident said, but because the tides come in early and much harder now, they can't do that anymore. Another resident disclosed that the water is now getting up to his fence. Heritage sites are also under threat, with the walls of Fort Jesus being eroded by the waves. Ms Fatma Twahir, the principal curator at Fort Jesus, says a sea wall was proposed to prevent further erosion of the walls, and climate change is to blame.
A similar situation plays out in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. In Dar, five million residents are living in a low-lying city surrounded by an ever-rising sea. In addition to the rising sea levels, heavy rainfall in Dar is flooding entire neighbourhoods each year. Water accumulates in the flat city, eroding the foundations of buildings. Even when residents expend all efforts keeping homes dry – sometimes permanently cementing the bottom-half of their front doors - the stagnant water erodes the outer walls and causes them to flake away.
In Saint-Louis, Senegal, 300,000 residents are in danger of losing their homes and livelihoods as houses are destroyed, streets flooded, and crops killed by encroaching seawater. City Lab reports the case of one resident, Saer Diop, whose uncle drowned in the sea as his boat capsized during a vicious storm. Diop goes on to disclose how he wasn't safe either on land as during the night waves come crashing through his window and his wall later collapsed.
10,000 residents of Saint-Louis, including Diop, have already been relocated to a temporary campsite, mostly without electricity or running water, close to the city’s small airport further inland. Saint-Louis is no higher than 4 metres above sea level, and the UN has named the city as Africa's most threatened city by rising sea levels. Rising tides have led to serious coastal erosion and forced schools, mosques, and hundreds of houses to be evacuated.
Climate change was largely caused by the developed world, and yet it is the developing world that will pay the most for it. This hits Africa especially hard, as most African countries are not in the financial position to adequately deal with the harsh realities of climate change. And yet, as the world discusses climate action, Africa is often left out of the discussion. Tales like those of Mombasa, Dar-es-salaam, and Saint-Louis are barely told. It is high time we started telling these stories. It is high time we show the world what climate change is doing to Africa.
Header Image Credit: Nation Media Group