In the oil-rich Niger Delta, coastal erosion frustrates locals endlessly | Features

Yenagoa, Nigeria On a hot Friday afternoon, Kenneth Umokahir sat near four neighbors outside his home in the Anabis community of Nigeria’s southernmost state of Bayelsa, lamenting men about the town’s coastal erosion.

“What else can we do?” asked Omokahir, 65, whose former home has been completely submerged for nearly four decades. This problem is not what we can solve as a society. have [sought] To get government help several times, but nothing has been done to save society from the problem.”

On July 4, 1985, the four-bedroom apartment in which Omokahir and his family lived was swept away by a river. Now, they are renting a smaller apartment in a nearby building with a leaky roof.

In Nigeria, the coastal areas spanning 853 km seven southern states On the border with the Atlantic Ocean, it is regularly affected by erosion and land loss caused by the removal of protective bedrock from the shoreline.

And the cost of this environmental phenomenon is prohibitive.

In 2018 alone, the total cost of erosion in Nigeria’s Cross River, Delta and Lagos states was estimated $1.9 billion, or 1.6 percent of gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.

Globally, sea level rise due to climate change is increasing the risks of coastal erosion. According to the year 2018 evaluation By the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), sea level could rise to 65 cm (26 in) by 2100, potentially causing severe damage to coastal cities.

These are the results of human-caused actions, natural environmental changes and climate change, said Taiwo Ogunumi, an environmental risk researcher at the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany.

“All in vain”

In Bayelsa, one of six states in the oil-rich Niger Delta region and Africa’s largest oil producer, many people live in abject poverty despite years of oil drilling – and face environmental degradation, too.

The state It is 90 percent water and has the longest coastline in the region, so residents often experience the effects of human, but also natural, activity.

Some communities are located on land that averages only 25 meters above sea level, so buildings regularly roam throughout the state.

“In Obogoro [community]Charles Uibo, an ecologist and lecturer at Niger Delta University in Wilberforce Island, told Al Jazeera that the river is now absorbing more water and the force with which the current moves has increased, so it is eating into the depths of the community.

“Then the Anibeze community is located on the sewer side of the river bank, so it is normal to expect things like this [coastal erosion] “.So the threat is real and has been around for decades,” he said.

In Obogoro, people, mostly farmers, say they lost About 60 percent From their homeland to coastal erosion. One of them, Somkieni Kpekpere, lost two homes.

“I feel very sad because these [two] “The houses were built to help me remember my hard work,” said a father of three.

Even the place where he is now staying with his family has cracks and he is worried about a repeat of the situation, especially since the house is near the river.

In Anibeze next to Obogoro, there is no longer a power supply as one of the electric poles has been washed there. Many homes and the first elementary school in the community met the same fate.

Until his graduation from that school in 1970, Omokahire walked daily to the classroom. But the impact of coastal erosion is forcing his children and peers to go the extra mile by literally walking to school in the neighboring communities.

“In 2012, we counted 250 buildings that had been eroded,” Lucky Obwana, 46, head of the community development committee in Annebezi, told Al Jazeera. We wrote letters to [both] State and federal government but to no avail. Therefore, we appeal to the government and the entire world to help us before we lose the entire community.”

These days, locals in both communities and elsewhere are putting pressure on the government to address the situation and mitigate further impact on their lives and the ecosystem.

In 2020, the “Save Obogoro Community” campaign was launched to advocate for long-term solutions to coastal erosion.

Members of the Annabes community said they often use local media to solicit government intervention. Obwana said environmentalists have also been invited from outside the community to tour the affected areas and advocate for solutions to the problem of coastal erosion.

He said their efforts so far have come to nothing, but they are determined to keep trying until the government responds.

View of a mud house in the Niger Delta community
A shelf containing electronic items, including two televisions, is seen inside a mud house in the village of Ikarama on the outskirts of the Bayelsa state capital, Yenagwa, in the Nigeria Delta region. [File: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters]

abandoned project

Experts say that as deforestation depletes the dense rainforests across the Niger Delta and causes the coastline to stagnate, more communities in the region will experience coastal erosion. They say urgent action is needed, including filling sand and protecting beaches.

“One of the main solutions to addressing the issue of coastal erosion in the Niger Delta is through mangrove restoration, which involves planting trees along the coasts,” Ogunwumi said, adding that “restoring mangroves will act as a buffer against extreme weather events. [like] flood [and] the stability of the coast.

To do so requires support from emergency institutions and government prioritization because “a government that can borrow millions of naira to buy cars can borrow money equally for development,” Oibo said.

But this has not yet come.

The issue of coastal erosion has not been addressed by any administration since the establishment of Bayelsa State [in 1996]Alagoa Morris, a project officer in Yenagoa with Environmental Rights/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), said. “There are many communities that need beach protection, but contracts have not been awarded by the state government.”

Morris claims that his organization made recommendations in 2018 to the government to establish a flood and erosion commission and to collaborate with development partners in Nigeria and beyond.

“But nothing [came of it],” he said. “Instead, when that happens to any community and you speak, the incumbent governor will tell you that my community has the same problem.”

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has reportedly awarded contracts to fill sand and protect coastlines in some communities, but the contractors have abandoned the project.

Residents say the NDDC, a government agency established in 2000 to facilitate the development of the Niger Delta, has a long history of awarding multi-million dollar contracts for projects that have not been completed. Even the state government claims that Bayelsa has the largest number of abandoned NDDC projects.

While waiting for the government to intervene, people are moving to other areas, especially in the neighboring state of Delta, in search of safety.

But transportation is a luxury that not everyone can afford. “We are in danger [especially] “And we’re approaching the rainy season,” Omokahire said. “For me, my house is near the river and I am afraid the house will be affected. But I have nowhere else to go.”