Atlantic Rising: Senegal's crumbling coast

When inadequate coastal walls only make the effects of sea level rise worse, is it time to move further inland?

Dakar’s sprawling suburbs stretch along the coastline of the Cape Vert peninsula. Hundreds of thousands of migrants move to Senegal’s capital in search of work and they make their homes wherever they can, often along the seashore.

Professor Isabelle Niang, the co-ordinator for UNESCO’s adaptation to climate and coastal change project in West Africa, took us to her home town of Rufisque, a few miles from Dakar, to show us how the sea is invading the suburb and to lament the government’s protection efforts.

She explained coastal erosion is a worsening problem in Senegal.
She said: 'In 1984 there were four points along the coast with problems of coastal erosion now almost all the towns along the coast have problems.'

In Rufisque, traditionally a fishing village, there have been three attempts to build sea walls, none particularly successful.

The walls are built without proper drainage channels and so when they are breached water collects in pools behind the walls. This area is used as a rubbish dump so any water quickly becomes very unhygienic.

Professor Niang said this leads to cholera outbreaks and the pools of stagnant water provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes and make malaria a year round problem.

A row of houses has already been lost and at times more houses and the town’s mosque are flooded, but it was not until the Muslim cemetery was inundated that the people became really angry.

Professor Niang said when the residents saw the bones of their relatives washed onto the beach they were so furious they blockaded the main road into Dakar until the government promised to take action.

She sighs: 'Instead of protecting their lives they prefer to protect the dead people.'

She believes that the only long term option is for people to move further inland but this is very unpopular. Fishermen don’t want to leave their boats and it is difficult to buy land. So for the time being the people remain sheltering behind partially crumbling sea walls.

Visit the Atlantic Rising project website here.

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