For generations, coastal communities in West Africa have lived off the land and sea, depending on the region’s abundant natural resources for their nutrition, health and economic activity. Coastal habitats such as mangroves and coral reefs, both important breeding grounds for fish, as well as hydrocarbon and mineral deposits, have helped foster thriving cities, trade, commerce and economic development in the region’s coastal zones, the source of 56% of West Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP.)
Rocky shores that hardly measure more than several meters at high tide are all that are left of some of Senegal’s most highly prized beaches at the seaside resort Saly. With every year that passes, the Atlantic ocean inches closer, much to the dismay of locals and tourists alike. 25% of the Senegalese coast is at high risk for coastal erosion, and it is estimated that this figure will increase to 75% by 2080 if sea levels continue to rise. A victim of climate change, Senegal tourism has taken a hit despite being one of the key focus areas of the Plan Sénégal Émergent, the country’s long-term growth and development strategy.
Currently around 43.2 million people or 30% of the population of Bangladesh live in poverty. Alarmingly, this figure includes 24.4 million extremely poor who are not even able to meet the basic needs of food expenditure. These numbers will be even higher if we do not address climate change. Preparation for climate change is essential for poverty alleviation to be sustainable.
Concentration of poor in climate-vulnerable coastal region
In densely populated and land scarce Bangladesh, poor households are disadvantaged with regards to land access, and many end up settling in low-lying regions close to the coast. The poverty map developed by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, World Food Program and the World Bank identifies a high incidence of poverty near the coast, where 11.8 million poor are located in 19 coastal districts in 2010.
The flooding of New Orleans, caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, illustrates the vulnerability of cities that are highly dependent on coastal defenses. Photo: NOAA [http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katrina-new-orleans-flooding3-2005.jpg]
Increasing flood risks create a major political and institutional challenge for the world’s coastal cities, as ambitious and proactive action at the local level over the next decades will be needed to avoid large-scale flood disasters. However, the implementation of flood risk management policies meets many obstacles.
In a recent study written with colleagues Colin Green, Robert Nicholls and Jan Corfee-Morlot as part of an OECD project on urban vulnerability, we estimate how flood risks could change in the future in 136 coastal cities, in response to increasing population and wealth, local environmental change, and climate change. We find that because current flood defenses and urbanization patterns have been designed for past environmental conditions, even a moderate change in sea level is sufficient to make them inadequate, thus magnifying flood losses to catastrophic levels. If no action is taken to reduce flood vulnerability, most coastal cities would become inhospitable and dangerous places to live, with annual losses in excess of US$1 trillion dollars.
What can be done?
Our analysis suggests that upgrading defenses could mitigate these losses and the impacts of rising sea levels. However, these upgrades need to include a package of risk management policies. First, coastal defenses should make use of the protection the environment can offer for free: Marshes, seagrass beds, coastal and kelp forests, and coral reefs provide natural buffers that absorb the energy from waves and storms, making it easier and cheaper to protect urban development. In addition artificial constructions are also required to provide full protection. We are not only talking about dykes: a city surrounded by dykes will need pumping systems to drain rainfall water, and a harbor will need moving barriers to let ships in and out of the port.
With the recent MDG summit in New York, I think it’s a good time to stop and take a look at the big water and sanitation picture. We know the numbers of people without access are daunting: 2.5 billion with no sanitation, 887 million without access to safe water. But more and more people are indeed gaining access. Since 1990, 1.6 billion have gained access to safe water. The world will likely even reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) set in 2015 to halve the number of people without access to clean water, according to the UN.
This is no small feat, and the world should take a moment to celebrate this success, and learn from challenges encountered along the way so that we continue beyond 2015 until everyone can access clean water and sanitation.
On the trip back to the base of PT Weda Bay Nickel after our two days in the Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park, we flew over the operating nickel mine at Tanjung Buli owned by publicly listed PT Aneka Tambang, but which has been operated since the opening in 2001 by a subcontractor.
|The handbook provides a self-assessment process so a city can judge for itself how much it needs to focus on climate change and where to go for help. See more here.