Using Vulnerability Assessments to Manage Climate Risks on West Africa’s Coasts

Using Vulnerability Assessments to Manage Climate Risks on West Africa’s Coasts
October 27, 2018 9:16 am News

Many communities along the coast of West Africa are susceptible to the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, unpredictable weather patterns, and increased flooding. These impacts, which threaten properties and human lives, are further exacerbated by other human-induced risks stemming from the unsustainable use of natural resources. These include risks like unplanned development in areas vulnerable to high tides and floods, deforestation of mangrove forests that provide a natural buffer against those impacts, and upland forest degradation that silts in rivers and streams, leaving rain and tidal waters with nowhere to go. To understand these issues in several areas along Sierra Leone’s coast, WA BiCC conducted a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (VA) in 2016, the results of which are now guiding interventions in these landscapes. The interventions, arrived at by the Assessment with input from local communities, include mangrove restoration, embankments to protect people and their properties against coastal erosion/sea-level rise, and the introduction of agrosilviculture. All of these activities are focused on improving the economic and environmental well being of these coastal communities.

Measurable results and lessons have already emerged from these activities, and the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention, focusing on Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future, provided an excellent platform to share experiences with VAs as tools to identify and thus manage climate and human-induced risks in both coastal urban areas as well as rural coastal landscapes. A side event, which took place in Dubai from October 21st-29th 2018, was held on October 24th and was chaired by Mr. Abou Bamba, Executive Secretary of the Abidjan Convention. The side event was attended by over 70 participants from different sectors and regions, all working on wetlands and coastal marine issues. The event was also attended by Eric Alvarez, a representative from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Leading with a presentation on the tools and methods employed in conducting the VA and an overview of the progress made so far, Zebedee Njisuh, WA BiCC’s Coastal Landscape Manager in Sierra Leone, said, “Although climate variables might seem to be changing at a slow pace, human activities are exacerbating the impacts of climate change. For example, the greatest driver of mangrove loss in coastal Sierra Leone is the clearing of mangroves for rice cultivation and fuelwood. Mangroves provide natural protection from flooding, so imagine what happens when they are gone and the sea levels keep increasing. Decision makers need to take into account the economic and social value, including preservation of life, that these forests provide”.

Dr. Njisuh emphasized the importance of engaging and involving communities in the identification and implementation of activities to ensure they understand and own the issues and outcomes, and that the process is not just for ‘outsiders’. This is critical for the long-term sustainability and replication of interventions. Examples cited included the participatory land use mapping approach, community-led mangrove restoration activities, and rice-mangrove agrosilviculture led by rice farmers.

Levi Piah, Liberia’s Ramsar focal point and member of the Environmental Protection Agency also shared results from a VA done in Liberia. He said 60% of the population in Liberia is within 40km of the coast, and it is expected that about 95sq. km of land in the coastal zone of Liberia will be inundated as a result of a one-meter sea level . This will lead to the loss of mangroves systems along the coast and could result in the loss of millions of dollars’ worth of land and infrastructure such as hotels, roads, residential and public buildings. On top of these consequences, perhaps the most tragic impact is the potential for the loss of life.

The threats to coastal ecosystems and the loss of livelihood sources is not only critical in Liberia but in all countries along the coast of West Africa and beyond. According to the World Bank, unsustainable infrastructure development, inadequate management of natural habitats and resources, and pollution threaten the productivity of coastal ecosystems and the environmental services they provide. Climate change–related events such as sea-level rise and warming, land subsidence, storm surge, and increased coastal flooding contribute to the vulnerability of the region. Coastlines are eroding as much as 10 meters per year in some areas. Making matters worse for local and national economies and quality of life is the over exploitation of fisheries, the lack of access to sewage services (less than 10% of urban areas have access to these services), the extensive deforestation of mangrove (20-30% of mangroves have already been lost to degradation and destruction in the last quarter century alone).

The results of our collaboration with the Abidjan Convention will be highlighted on Friday, 26 October through a second side event on “Perspectives from West Africa on Wetlands and Urbanization”.

To maximize the impact and value of its work, WA BiCC also collaborates with global and regional organizations such as the World Bank, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union (MRU). In this regard, the West Africa Coastal Areas Management Program (WACA) helps countries access expertise and financing to sustainably manage their coastal areas. WACA was developed in response to countries’ request for solutions to help save and strengthen the social and economic assets of coastal areas by addressing coastal erosion and flooding.

Statements made by representatives from Ghana and Guinea confirmed the regional concerns about the threats, especially coastal erosion, sea-level rise, floods, pollution from mining, and over exploitation of fisheries.

“The loss of mangrove cover is indeed bad for business in Ghana, the heart of fisheries in West Africa.”, said Nana Adu Nsiah, Director of Wildlife of the Forestry Commission of Ghana in his contribution to the side event. He stressed prioritizing national climate change mitigation measures and pointed out that communities in Ghana are now recognizing the importance of mangrove forests and have started planting them along their coasts.

Mr. Namory Keita, the Director General of Nature Conservation, Ministry of Environment, Water and Forestry-Guinea emphasized the impacts caused by unsustainable mining, especially adverse changes to local hydrology. Examples of this include changing the water flow of major rivers whose headwaters are  destroying water quality through the spread of heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.

All participants were fully aware of the issues on hand, and many recommendations were made to address the challenges through collective actions involving local, national, regional, and global stakeholders and partners. They were actively engaged during the questions and contribution segment. Below are some short video clips showcasing the views and responses of some of the participants.

WA BiCC and the Abidjan Convention will cohost another side event on Friday, October 26th titled “Perspectives from West Africa on Wetlands and Urbanization”.


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