Africa’s most populous city could soon be uninhabitable due to rising sea levels

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) — Cars and houses submerged in water, passengers wading through knee-deep floodwaters to reach buses, and homeowners calculating the cost of their destroyed property.

Welcome to Lagos in the rainy season.

Residents of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, are used to the annual floods that hit the coastal city from March to November. However, in mid-July, Lagos Island’s main business district experienced some of the worst flooding in recent years.

“It was very bad and unusual,” Eselebor Oseluonamhen, 32, told CNN.

“I left my house… I didn’t realize it had rained so much… There was a lot of traffic on my route because of the flooding. The further we went, the higher the water level was. It rose until it covered the bumper from my car…then there was water flowing into my car,” recalled Oseluonamhen, who runs a media company in Lagos.

Photos and videos posted on social media showed dozens of vehicles flooded with water after torrential rain. Flooding paralyzes economic activity, at an estimated cost of around US$4 billion per year.

Greenland melting threatens sea level 0:53

Lagos, a low-lying city on Nigeria’s Atlantic coast, and home to more than 24 million people, may become uninhabitable by the end of this century as sea levels rise due to climate change, scientific projections suggest.

The problem is aggravated by “inadequate and poorly maintained drainage systems and uncontrolled urban growth,” among others, according to a study led by the Institute of Development Studies.

The Nigerian Hydrological Agency (NIHSA) has forecast more catastrophic flooding in September, usually the peak of the rainy season.

eroded shoreline

Lagos is built partly on the mainland and a series of islands.

It is dealing with an eroding coastline that makes the city vulnerable to flooding, which, according to the Nigerian environmentalist Seyifunmi Adeboteis attributable to global warming and “human-induced action over a prolonged period”.

Sand mining for construction is a major contributing factor to coastal erosion in Lagos, they have said. environmental experts.

Manzo Ezekiel, a spokesman for Nigeria’s emergency management agency (NEMA), told CNN that Lagos’s Victoria Island riverfront is already being “washed away…particularly in Lagos Area VI.” “There is a problem that the riverbank is being washed away. The rise in the water level is eating away at the land,” Ezekiel added.

On Victoria Island, a thriving neighborhood of Lagos, a brand new seaside town dubbed ‘Eko Atlantic’, is being built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean, and will be protected from rising waters by an 8-kilometre-long wall built of concrete blocks, developers say.

While the ambitious project could help reduce housing shortages in other parts of the city, Ezekiel fears “reclaiming land from the sea will put pressure on other coastal areas.”

Other critics have argued that adjacent areas not protected by the wall will be left vulnerable to storm surges. CNN has contacted Eko Atlantic for comment.

Coastal cities at risk of being submerged

Low-lying coastal cities in some parts of the world may be permanently submerged by 2100, study findings have shown. The study published by the research group Climate Central It indicated that the affected areas could sink below the high tide line if the sea level continues to rise.

“As a result of heat-trapping pollution from human activities, rising sea levels could drive chronic flooding within three decades over land that is currently home to an estimated 300 million people,” the study said. “By 2100, areas that are now home to 200 million people could fall permanently below the high tide line,” he added.

Global sea levels are predicted to rise by more than 2 meters by the end of this century.

This leaves Lagos, who according to the experts it is less than two meters above sea level, in a precarious state, given that part of the Nigerian coast is low. In a study In 2012, the UK’s Plymouth University found that a sea level rise of just 1 to 3 meters “will have a catastrophic effect on human activities” in coastal environments in Nigeria.

Adebote told CNN that the fate of Lagos “would depend on how we prioritize this scientific prediction and the corresponding actions we take in response.” “It’s only a matter of time before nature kicks in and this could be a disaster,” he added.

Deadly floods in Nigeria

Perennial flooding in coastal areas of Nigeria has left many dead and dozens displaced. According to data from NEMAmore than 2 million people were directly affected by floods in 2020.

At least 69 people lost their lives in flood disasters last year. In 2019, more than 200,000 people were affected by floods with 158 deaths.

“Every year we are witnessing floods in Nigeria. It is a problem that climate change has brought and we are living with it,” Ezekiel told CNN.

Beyond Lagos’s vulnerability to climate change, poor drainage systems and clogged gutters in large swathes of the city are thought to have intensified flooding problems.

“As much as climate change influences sea level rise, what you can see in this video is predominantly a drainage system issue,” tweeted a social media user while reacting to a video of the recent flooding in Lagos.

However, as flooding increases in some areas, low-income neighborhoods built on reclaimed wetlands are having to deal with sinking buildings.

They were trapped in a flooded subway 1:12

Keep Lagos afloat

Adebote told CNN that for Lagos to stay afloat in the face of flooding and rising sea levels, it must adapt to climate change.

“We need to look at our infrastructure: drainage systems, waste management facilities, housing structures… How resilient and adaptable are these infrastructures in the face of environmental pressures, and when do they stand alongside our growing population?” he said.

Aerial view of Lagos, Nigeria, in April 2016.

Lagos authorities have since started cleaning up the state’s waterways to mitigate perennial flooding.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has also expressed the country’s willingness to partner with global allies to tackle climate change.

“We look forward to working with President [Joe] Biden and the vice president [Kamala] Harris. We have great hope and optimism in strengthening existing cordial relations, working together to tackle global terrorism, climate change, poverty and improving economic ties and trade,” Buhari wrote in a January tweet.

But Adebote comments that government responses to climate action “have been largely flawed”.

“There is much that needs to be done and consistent and deliberate action will be taken by various stakeholders for Nigeria to take appropriate climate actions, especially to adapt to the impacts that are already threatening our livelihoods,” he added.

One environmental activist, Olumide Idowu, urged government authorities to partner with the private sector to leverage funds to tackle the problems.

“The government should consider private sector partnerships to leverage climate finance to solve flooding problems,” Idowu told CNN.

Nigeria’s economy has struggled in recent years, cutting funding for climate change and other critical sectors. However, the authorities are still committing to accelerate the country’s response to climate change.

Last month, the Nigerian Ministry of Environment announced the presidential approval of a renewed national policy on climate change, aimed at addressing “most, if not all, of the challenges posed by climate change and climate vulnerability in the country,” a ministry spokesman wrote in a publication from Twitter.

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