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Climate victims: Grand-Lahou, an Ivorian tourist destination is washing away

For the past decades rising sea levels and coastal erosion have threatened the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people across West Africa. The sea has swallowed the coastline of Grand-Lahou’s old town at a pace of 1-to-2 meters a year to the extent that only one habitable village remains partially intact.



The recent global climate strike where millions of students and other activists abandoned school and work to join mass protests calling for action against climate change is only one of the indications that the situation is dire.

According to the 2019 Global report of internal displacement, 17.2 million people in 144 countries and territories were newly displaced in the context of disasters within their own country in 2018. This displacement has been caused primarily by extreme weather events, especially storms (9.3 million) and cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons (7.9 million).

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) records that worldwide, over a period of eleven years (2008-2018), about 265.3 million people were displaced internally as a response to disasters. South and East Asia, and the Pacific were the most affected regions.

Slow-onset processes such as droughts or sea level rise also increasingly affecting people worldwide. Coastal erosion for example is a natural phenomenon, but experts say human activity has accelerated it and with global warming, sea levels are rising around the world.



In West Africa, a third of the population lives along the coast where rising sea levels linked to the melting of the polar ice caps are conspiring with coastal erosion to slowly submerge communities. Grand-Lahou in Ivory Coast provides an apt local case study of how real the climate threat has become. The area is now largely abandoned but 7,000 people still live in Lahou-Kpanda, the last habitable village.


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According to reports the threat of erosion is worsened in area by the presence of a hydroelectric dam built in the early 1970s, some 250 km to the north. This has deprived the Bandama River of some of its power and ability to withstand the ocean. The earth has since receded by an average of 1 to 2 metres a year and a loss of 10 metres in just 2 days in 2011.

Residents are said to have attempted to tried to have the town of Grand-Lahou on the list of UNESCO protected sites in an effort to access funding to save the peninsula, but local experts say it is too late as historical buildings have already been lost.

“The old city of Grand Lahou cannot be on the UNESCO natural heritage list, it doesn’t exist anymore. At the time they rang the alarm to see what could be done with that part (of the city), but all these historical buildings are gone now”, Professor Jacques Abe head of the Oceanographic research centre said in a statement.

So far the small community in Lahou-Kpanda has seen their prison, hospital, school and ancestral graves claimed by the waters.


“Today we live in anguish. What will happen tomorrow if no one comes to the help of the village? We will disappear. But today it is our dead who are leaving. You know, in Africa, our parents, our ancestors are very important to us and to see them scattered in the sea is heart breaking and every day that God brings to us we are haunted”, Daniel Loha, a village elder is quoted saying by Africa News.

In November 2018, a total of €24 million was released to Ivory Coast as a loan from the World Bank to help combat the “phenomenon of coastal erosion and climate change”. The degradation of its coast cost Ivory Coast nearly $2 billion in 2017 or nearly 5% of its GDP, according to the World Bank, making it one of the worst-hit countries in West Africa.

The country is therefore pledging to do its part in fighting climate change by committing at the Paris climate talks in 2015 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2030.

“It is true that we are not a big, industrial country, but we must do our part to make this phenomenon diminish,” Tagwa Eric Cavale, a marine and coastal scientist who heads the government’s national programme for coastal environment management told Aljazeera. “That’s what we must do: reduce the emission of greenhouse gases”.

For climate change denouncers the facts can no longer be disputed and on the continent the issue is pegged on preparedness for the eventual ravages we can expect if drastic change does not occur.