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.
The economic importance of Senegal’s coastal integrity cannot be overstated, and its significance is projected to continue to grow. Home to 60% of the population, or around 7.8 million of an estimated 13.5 million people, Senegal’s coast stretches over 531 km, with the coastal region accounting for 68% of GDP. According to current estimates, urbanization along the coast is likely to increase by one-third between 1990 and 2080. In addition to its economic effects, coastal vulnerability also poses significant poverty risks, as the negative impacts of environmental shocks typically fall most heavily on the poor. In a country where nearly half of the population lives in poverty, resilience against natural disasters and climate change is crucial
The process of coastal erosion in Senegal began in the early 1980s, however initially it was not taken very seriously. Erosion is primarily driven by rising sea levels and aggravated by human activities, particularly construction along the coast. By hindering the natural retention and absorption of rainwater, sand extraction and beachfront urbanization have increased the risk of flooding, threatening housing, infrastructure and tourism. Tourism is especially important in the service-driven Senegalese economy; the government has identified tourism as one of the key drivers of national economic growth, and the sector is an important source of jobs along the coast outside Dakar.
While tourism in Senegal faces a number of serious challenges, including high taxes, a lack of public investment and poor sector management, disappearing beaches present the most critical problem. Saly-Portudal, a major beach resort, is a case in point. A coastal town with 15 hotels and 23 residential vacation complexes, its economy is entirely dependent on beach activities. As a result of coastal erosion however, 30% of Saly-Portudal’s accommodations have lost access to useable beaches.
A decline in tourism activity not only damages the local economy, it also has a negative impact at the national level. Assuming a strong correlation between population and coastal vulnerabilities including human, material and economic risks, the net present value of coastal erosion and marine submersion in Senegal is estimated at 344 billion CFAF (US$688 million). Other potential costs, such as the loss of human lives, which is tragic or the destruction of cultural heritage sites and ecosystems, are not easily monetized.
Coastal erosion has not been tackled coherently, and some isolated response measures have halted the process in one area while aggravating it in another. Given the high priority attached to tourism in the government’s national development strategy this issue demands urgent attention.
63% of Senegal’s population is aware of the negative effects of environmental change, and there is likely to be public support for government intervention. As in so many areas, improved data collection is crucial to effective policy. An intervention framework should be established to prioritize and coordinate response measures, and the Coastal Zone Management Plan should be progressively elaborated and improved. Complementary measures include urban planning, institutional reform, better institutional coordination and the development of government agencies’ technical knowledge.
Finally, legislative and regulatory reforms will be necessary to build a coherent legal basis for coastal management, specifically the Coastal Law, the National Coast Erosion Prevention Program and National Action Plan for Climate Change. Overall, the most crucial challenge will be to transform the mindset of policymakers and the public regarding the threats posed by coastal erosion and climate change. These issues are urgent, and the clock is ticking.