Lagos Island’s Wet Future Unavoidable, Environmentalists Warn

A community on Lagos Island is being swallowed by the waves. Lagos, one of the world’s most populous cities, lies in the Bay of Lagos, a watery delta of floodplains and sandy creeks that…

Lagos Island’s Wet Future Unavoidable, Environmentalists Warn

A community on Lagos Island is being swallowed by the waves. Lagos, one of the world’s most populous cities, lies in the Bay of Lagos, a watery delta of floodplains and sandy creeks that make the city of 20 million depend on the storms to replenish its land.

“Climate change has made this part of the environment so treacherous,” said Wilhelmina Olayinka, a resident of Cari beach and an activist against climate change. “In the time I have been coming here, it has only been two or three years,” she said.

As communities in Lagos prepare for even more flooding, projects are being launched across the city to help, including a major public initiative to raise houses and insulate against storm surges. But, said Olayinka, the city’s flood management plan has only spared a few of the poorest and most vulnerable communities, largely the descendants of the slaves who arrived on the shores of the country in the 1800s.

And the environment movement’s progress is making little difference for some 1,000 families that have been left homeless by high tides or damage from this year’s flood. These families have been mostly shut out of the planned relocation plan, and there are fears that more will be dislocated in coming years.

The flood that washed these families off their land on Lagos Island is just one in a string of events that have left the sprawling megacity facing a slow, catastrophic loss of space.

Lagos Island can now have only about 50 percent of its former landmass, and as sea levels rise scientists warn that could decrease by another 20 percent.

“The city is expanding inward, increasing the size of the coastal zone and limiting the areas that will survive as an island,” said E. Sodiq Arowolo, an associate professor at the School of Geography and Ecology at the University of the West Indies, based in the resort island of Nevis.

“With the number of tidal inundations increasing from three to more than 60 percent a year, Lagos islanders will become even more vulnerable,” he said.

Not that it matters to them. When the sea wipes out the island, they will likely be already back on the mainland, searching for the next hope. “If we don’t make progress, then it will be too late,” Arowolo said.

The problem of climate change affecting small island countries is an acute one. U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon this week said the world has just weeks to save the future of island states from becoming the victims of floods.

“I am equally worried by the fact that there are even more vulnerable countries such as coastal Bangladesh, Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands,” he said.

A long-term solution will mean bolstering defenses to lessen the damage that those nations are facing. “We need to move from a linear mindset of response to reduce vulnerability and rebuild resilience,” said Arowolo.

The best hope for these nations may lie in government investment. Some small islands have organized themselves into diplomatic missions, often with headquarters in New York, in order to press for stronger action.

Brazil, one of the Latin American countries most affected by climate change, has previously sought to leverage its international influence to press for financial and political support for its small countries in combating the threat of climate change.

Representatives from the small Pacific countries of Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Papua New Guinea were present at the 2012 meeting of the 196 nations negotiating climate change in Cancun, Mexico.

“We know that climate change is going to have a massive impact on our lifestyle,” said Marcus, of Tuvalu, who asked not to use his last name. “As a small island nation, we have to address this problem, or we will be in real trouble.”

With help from the Times’ Diana Olick

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