A city is sinking under the weight of its growing population

A few hundred metres off Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city, sit one of the fastest-rising sea levels in the world, where people have been trapped in low-lying areas for decades. With the city only…

A city is sinking under the weight of its growing population

A few hundred metres off Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city, sit one of the fastest-rising sea levels in the world, where people have been trapped in low-lying areas for decades. With the city only 30 metres above sea level, these homes were built on a shoreline that has risen nearly 12 metres. In 1997, when the Lagos State government started digging sea walls to protect some parts of the city, the homes near the edge of the road along Lekki Island came tumbling down, because the sea walls were too narrow and the slopes too steep. That is not to say that the work stopped. Tens of millions of dollars were spent in the mid-2000s on works to improve the effectiveness of the walls, but it does not seem to have mitigated the worsening effects of the sea. The fate of these low-lying communities goes far beyond the issue of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Development, the Niger Delta, wars and post-colonial politics have exacerbated the problem; yet the biggest threat to life along Lagos is the amount of water already piled on the land at its edges, and how to contain that so that life can flourish.

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