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Rising Sea Levels Endanger Senegalese Islands

  • Zlatica Hoke

Senegal's Saloum Delta region is an egregious example of how rising sea levels caused by global warming endanger coastal communities around the world.

Mangrove forests, essential to Senegalese coastal ecosystems, protect swampy areas from erosion, storm surges and tsunamis. They shield crop fields and help boost fish stocks. But as the sea waters rise, the mangroves get too much salt and perish.

Droughts and erratic rainfalls that cause floods have increased salt levels and poisoned freshwater sources, land and agriculture.

"Three or four days after the rain, everything goes white. There are piles of salt. All the crops we sow die. All this is due to the salinity caused by the rising waters of the sea. And when we store valuables in our rooms, rust eats away little-by-little and eventually destroys them," said Fatou Faye, a resident of Diamniadio island.

Residents of the Diamniadio Island near the edge of the delta used to grow their own rice and vegetables. Now they have to buy the produce they used to grow. When the community lost its rice crops, it turned to fishing for livelihood. But when the mangroves die they also erase the breeding grounds for fish.

"When the sea enters in the river, because you have increasing of salt, it has killed many mangroves. And you know the mangroves are the nurseries of all the seafood," said Aissata Dia of Actionaid Senegal.

Illegal overfishing further depleted fish stocks, leaving many people without a source of livelihood.

"No mangrove conservation and land salinization led us to turn to immigration. A decrease of resources is what drives young people here to take canoes to reach the Canary Islands," said Youssoupha Sarr, a field worker for Actionaid.

Those left behind fear losing their homes to the sea.

"When the tide is high, the water goes into the kitchen and then gradually the water enters the rooms. My kitchen was rebuilt last year, but even today it is threatened by the rising waters. The high salinity of the seawater eventually breaks down even the cement. After three years, the building collapses," said islander Faye.

Local activists have started an effort to replant mangroves and control the use of the shrubs for firewood. They are also working with the communities to set up sand barriers, provide water tanks to collect rain water, and grow table gardens with soil made from peanut shells and other material.

Environmentalists hope the plight of the islands will receive due attention at the Paris Climate Summit.

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