The Nigerian population is growing rapidly, but so are the areas with rising sea levels, the cost of infrastructure construction and deforestation — making for a crisis at once simple and complex.
As Nigeria strives to resolve its myriad challenges, the country’s long-term planning is hampered by poor data collection, inadequate infrastructure and crippling desertification. Indeed, the huge sums invested in public infrastructure, such as roads, in developing countries can have the perverse effect of adding to pressures leading to coastal erosion.
Sea levels have risen by about 9.3 centimeters (four inches) since 1900. In most of the world, rising sea levels have so far had a negligible effect on local shorelines. But this is not the case for countries in the Gulf region. Rising seas raise the rate at which saltwater seeps into water tables. The excess freshwater then flows to shorelines, where it can melt coral and erode shorelines. At the same time, rising seas push shallow groundwater to sea level. As the groundwater flows out, it also contaminates water tables, pushing saltwater further inland. This causes periodic sudden surges in waves and saltwater intrusion, which residents of cities such as Dubai and Sharjah report experiencing. The rapid construction of massive coastal cities — Dubai, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Doha — is exacerbating the problem. As numerous media outlets have reported, sediment sent from the sea to shorelines, and groundwater transport, play a major role in the rapid overrunning of shorelines.
In Lagos, the country’s commercial hub, rapid urbanisation and overwork of the coastal erosion have caused a perilous situation. Many vulnerable coastal communities have reported finding their shorelines completely eroded, beaching boats or claiming entire beach sides. It has been said that much of the land around the state’s lowland slums is washed away every winter. This loss, combined with a steady population growth and human activities such as construction and agriculture, create a severe ecological, health and economic problem. Environmental degradation, desertification and coastal erosion are believed to be major factors in the high mortality rates of the Nigerian urban poor.
With a rapidly growing population, which is expected to reach 275 million by 2060, the issue of erosion is only likely to become more severe. In recent years, many cities, such as Lagos, have transformed their land use so as to increase the density of their population. The resulting urban intensiveisation, fueled by rapid urban development and trade, has led to loss of coastal land. This trend has severely deteriorated land quality in the coastal areas, especially in degraded floodplain areas.
In Nigeria’s case, rapid development has had a spillover effect: accelerated deforestation has led to increasing land degradation and coastal erosion. Demolition of buildings and the draining of encroaching water to dry land have been reported in Lagos, its suburb areas and parts of the city adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean.
Although Lagos’ development plans include an ambitious plan to resettle vulnerable coastal communities and to make them a source of employment, several communities have opted for relocating rather than being relocated. Indeed, tens of thousands of vulnerable coastal communities have chosen not to relocate even if they face possible relocation.
Considering the severity of the coastal erosion, waste disposal and distribution in Lagos is becoming unsustainable. Freshwater supplies have been compromised, and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and floods, have become more frequent and destructive. In 2017, a locally organised demonstration by Lagos residents against the imminent threat of an impending sea surge led to closure of the Airport Road.
With a looming deadline, the Federal Ministry of Environment is consulting international experts to find a solution to Nigeria’s erosion-endemic situation. The way forward should be for the country to adopt modern coastal management practices. These include using sound coastal maps for planning purposes, better training of coastal management and tourism professionals, and planning the regulation of maritime activities in coastal communities.
Nigeria’s population growth and climate change are likely to cause serious waves of overrunning shorelines in future. Yet, the government has yet to devise a lasting solution to tackle these important environmental problems.
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