Masamba is not interested in climate change. He doesn’t get into arguments about his veracity, he’s not a denier, nor the opposite. He is a fisherman and what matters to him now is that the houses in the fishing district of Saint-Louis (Senegal) do not suffer a new onslaught of waves. He assures that, when his mother was little, “she had to take a horse to get to the sea.” He tells me sipping tea in one of the houses on the waterfront and now we have the sea so close that it almost splashes us. It’s so close that Masamba’s house has not had a door for two years, nor carpets (the floor is a carpet of sand that has invaded the house centimeter by centimeter), nor wooden furnitureNo glass in the windows. The neighbor’s house collapsed during some storm. Without doors or windows, the hustle and bustle outside can be heard without difficulty, hundreds of children playing, hundreds of fishermen mending their nets, hundreds of women advertising their products, thousands of lives at the water’s edge because “here nobody spends the day at home because in house they don’t have anything to entertain themselves with, do you understand?, so life in this neighborhood always happens on the street”.
Masamba tells me. He points to some blocks of stone half-buried on the beach or collapsed on themselves and that try to stop the momentum of the waters in some way, without success: “we bought the stone with European money but, the truth, but I think that the workers did not put good blocks. Either that or they’re not enough.”
Capitals on the beach
Lack of money or a better use of money? The only undeniable thing is that the second beach line in Saint Louis begins to be the first. And when we dig, we find a problem that affects a large number of African regions. Whether or not there is global warmingLeaving the controversy aside and looking at it as Masamba looks at it, we are about to review the precarious situation that the continent is experiencing in the face of floods.
We start from the basis that more than twenty African capitals are located by the sea and that together they add up to more than 35 million inhabitants. This would be without counting other coastal towns such as, without going any further, Saint Louis. The height above sea level in some cities is reasonable, with strong examples such as Rabat (75m) or Monrovia (223m), although most coastal capitals do not have these numbers. Bissau (0 meters above sea level), Mogadishu (9 meters above sea level) or Lomé (10 meters above sea level) are affected, not only by the impatient rise in sea level, but by other natural disasters that also damage the infrastructure and claim an anonymous number of lives.
It is worth understanding why so many African capitals are located on the coastline, if the danger is so high. But it is evident: the majority were important commercial ports used by the colonizing powers to bring the raw material to the metropolis with greater effectiveness. Even new capitals like Bissau and Dakar (replacing the colonial capitals of Bolama and Saint Louis) were important ports in the region during colonialism. Today Africa continues to depend on the raw material for its survival and it seems risky to separate the capital from the valuable ports.
Moderate and destructive data
The predictions of the experts are not apocalyptic but they are not encouraging either. It is not that tomorrow all of Abidjan, which is 18 meters above sea level, will suddenly be flooded, far from it, because the sea has risen 7 centimeters in the last 25 years (a worrying figure compared to 14 centimeters of the two previous centuries) and there is still time until it climbs the remaining 17.93 meters. The first problem facing coastal areas will not be the permanent flooding that seems likely to happen in a few hundred years, but the increase in seasonal flooding and damage caused by storms that are already making themselves felt on the continent.
That is why Masamba does not care whether global warming exists or not: he knows that the destruction of African homes by floods has been, is and will be routine in his land. A recent example is the pluvial floods of last April in the province of KwaZulu-NatalSouth Africa, which claimed more than 300 deaths in one week.
In 2020, three coastal areas in Africa were identified as being susceptible to increased seasonal flooding over the next fifty years: the Atlantic coast that runs from Mauritania to Guinea Conakry, the Gulf of Guinea and Mozambique, and it makes sense because Saint Louis is 30 kilometers from the Mauritanian border. Added to the floods is the erosion of the coast, which occurs much faster than the rise of the water (only in Benin, the coast erodes at 4 meters per year), together with the river floods that occur in the mouths of many rivers near the capitals. And if there are already problems when the Ebro and its flow of 430 m³/s overflow in Tarragona, then imagine one when the same thing happens with the Niger and its devastating 5,500 m³/s…
A report issued by the World Bank in March 2019 estimated at 3.8 billion dollars the losses suffered by the West African coast (one of the three most affected areas, remember?) due to floods, erosion and pollution. . In Côte d’Ivoire, the expense caused by erosion amounted to 4.9% of its GDP. It is not necessary to take examples to know that many populated areas of Africa have insufficient infrastructure to withstand natural disasters, not only when we speak of complex preventive systems such as those in Holland or New Orleans, but when we speak of the foundations of homes such as that of Masamba.
Faced with the impotence of the population to fix their homes or to pay for systems that prevent flooding themselves, public officials and NGOs denounce that the same process is repeated every year in certain areas: they build a new house, the floods return, the house is demolished, they build a new house, the floods return, the house is demolished, etc. It is discouraging for some, including Masamba, who in the heat of the conversation affirms that “the NGOs use poor quality materials so that the houses fall down and that is how they come back every year”, and he says this fearing to appear ungrateful. Do not bite the hand that feeds you but Masamba seems tired of being fed, he wants to jump into his sea without worries and catch tuna by mouthfuls but knowing that he leaves his wife in a house with windows and a door. After a while he gets discouraged and seems to be convinced of something. He mentions more than 20 villages that have been affected in southern Senegal, all due to the floods generated by the Niafrang zircon mine after removing the natural barrier of the coast.
He then said something discouraging, although it was impressive to hear barely over the hubbub of passers-by: “The problem is that we Africans need help in too many places and with too many things, we always need help… that if it is a flood, war, famine, We are always in need of help.” He added that “people are bored by those who are always asking for help, like beggars” but that he only asked for two things: “to maintain my pride and catch enough fish to support my family.”