By Olanrewaju Oyedeji
A new scheme to combat the scourge of coastal erosion in West Africa is underway.
The project which is a collaboration between the World Bank and the French Ministry of Environment, Energy, is designed to support of West African countries to strengthen the resilience of their coastal areas to climate change, and to identify opportunities for investments in the sustainable development of their ‘blue’ economies.
According to the partners, the trigger for embarking on the project is the request by West African countries for international support in overcoming a wide range of challenges such as coastal erosion and flooding, over-exploitation of natural resources, marine and coastal pollution, rapid urbanization, and unsustainable land use. It builds on commitments and awareness raising activities organized by the World Bank and France during the Paris climate change conference in December to raise financing for climate resilience in coastal zones.
“In 2015, the ocean was acknowledged as critical challenge in the climate change agenda. 2016 must be the time for action. In signing this arrangement with the World Bank, France shows its support to West African countries in strengthening the integrated management of their coastal areas, in one of the most vulnerable regions of the world,” said Ségolène Royal, Minister of Environment, Energy, and the Seas at the signing of the administrative arrangement.
“We know the physical impacts of climate change are felt strongly by the earth’s oceans, just as they are by our forests, our landscapes, and our economies. Coming just four months after the Paris climate agreement, this collaboration is a significant step towards building resilience for the millions of people who rely on oceans for their livelihoods. We need to move forward urgently in a concerted and effective manner,” said Laura Tuck, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development.
The World Bank and France agree to collaborate on joint activities such as the establishment of a West Africa coastal observatory to improve the knowledge base on coastal erosion, flooding and other climate change hazards along the coastal and island nations of West Africa. This observatory will build national and regional capacity; initiate policy dialogues; and provide the knowledge and data for improved decision-making.
The observatory will be part of the West Africa Coastal Areas (WACA) program, launched by the World Bank in 2015, which seeks to better integrate infrastructure and natural resources management in order to enhance coastal resilience to climate change. Through WACA, the World Bank, France and partners hope to assist countries to increase the resilience of coastal communities to climate hazards – in particular flooding and coastal erosion – in 30 percent of identified hotspots by 2023.
West Africa’s coastal areas host an abundance of natural resources, on land and at sea, that provide vital ecosystem services. The coastal areas are home to 31 percent of the region’s population and account for 56 percent of the region’s GDP. More than 1.6 million tons of fish are legally captured in West African waters each year, with an estimated wholesale value of US$2.5 billion.
Climate change, unsustainable infrastructure development, inadequate management of natural habitats and resources, and pollution are threatening the productivity of coastal ecosystems. Severe shoreline losses, expected to worsen as the sea level rises, are already having substantial economic impact on populations. According to World Bank estimates from 2012, an average of 500,000 people are affected each year in this region by floods, and in Togo the coastlines retreat by an average of 5 meters each year.