News / Africa

West Africa Explores Ways to Mitigate Climate Change's Effects

Senegalese fishermen talk with environmental groups about the changes they've seen in fishing stocks
Senegalese fishermen talk with environmental groups about the changes they've seen in fishing stocks
Julia Ritchey

From eroding coastline to depleted fish stocks, the effects of climate change are being felt along West Africa's coast and governments and environmental groups are coming together to talk about what can be done to mitigate its impact.  

The ocean breaking on southern Senegal's coastline does not look much different from any other beach. But a closer a look at the Palmarin peninsula, reveals a different story, uprooted palm trees mark eroded coastlines and vestiges of buildings mark where a village was washed away two decades ago.

An island visible from the tip of Palmarin used to be connected to the peninsula, but rising waters and a tidal wave in 1987 separated the two with the gap getting wider and deeper with each year, according to local residents.

A master's student working at the World Wildlife Fund in Senegal, Annika O'Dea, says Palmarin's coast serves as just one example of how climate change has affected the ecosystems of West Africa.

“This ecosystem is more important than many because it is one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world, because of the upwelling of the Canary currents," said O'Dea. "And because it is an interconnected ecosystem, it really requires international cooperation.”  

Seven countries along West Africa's coast, including Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde, gathered for a USAID-funded conference this month, the first of three scheduled, to discuss and compare climate-change concerns in the region.  

A WWF coordinator in Gambia, Ibrahima Mat Dia, explained on a field trip for participants about one village in Palmarin called Kad Diakhanor that will eventually have to move due to encroaching waters.

"This village has to be relocated somewhere else, but for the community, there are not enough facilities over there, they do no want to move," said Dia.

Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency Director Kolleh Bangura says he sees similar situations in his country.

“I also look at Sierra Leone and Senegal having very similar problems," said Bangura. "Part of the problem, are trans-boundary problems, which you have to sort of approach on a regional basis.  What is happening on the coastline is not entirely the making of the Senegal.”

Bangura says many environmental issues in Sierra Leone are exacerbated by problems leftover from the country's 11-year civil war, with lawlessness one of the biggest challenges.  He says people use up natural resources for mining or logging without any idea of how it degrades the land.

“People grab the land and you really have use force to remove them there sometimes," he said. "So lawlessness is a very big issue and it has resulted from the war.  Mainly because some of the youth today were soldiers 10 years ago, as child soldiers, and all they knew was violence.  When they grow up without any education, these are people who are very difficult to negotiate with.  They do not know anything about the environment, so the literacy is one big thing.”

In West Africa, one of the biggest examples of climate change's cause and effect has been overfishing.  As agricultural land further inland has dried up and the soil salinized by irrigation, more people have moved to the coasts of these countries to try to make a living, putting enormous strain on the beaches and fishing stocks.

Virginia Lee, a professor at the University of Rhode Island who works on coastal issues with the WWF here, says the depleted fish stocks threaten the local populations who rely on them.

"Fish are a food security issue, more clearly in West Africa than in some places, the United States for instance," said Lee. "Fish is a protein supply, primary animal protein supply.  So when the fisheries are declining here, due to over fishing both by local people and by the international industrial fleets, that really affects the security of the people, the health and vitality of the people.”

In the nearby fishing port of Joal, local fish mongers and fisherman shared anecdotes of how fishing stocks had changed during the past few decades.

One fisherman says they used to be able to trap tons of fish close to the shore, now they have to go further and further away.

Another fisherman said in 1965, there were only five to 10 boats off Joal's coast, but now there are hundreds of them casting thousands of nets.  Many of the fishermen say they have adapted to the depleting fisheries by diversifying and becoming farmers and herders on the side.

The director of the WWF in Senegal, Arona Soumare, who has worked with the NGO for eight years, says he thinks there has been in a subtle shift in opinion in West Africa.

"I think it is yes and no," said Soumare. "I see yes in terms of people having related more to this issue.  A few years ago, when we talked about the environment to locals, they thought, okay, these are people coming from developed countries who just want to tell them what to do. Now people can start seeing how it is impacting their life, and it is happening sometimes in their backyard.”

Soumare says ecological arguments are not enough to convince people to change their behavior, he thinks West Africans first have to see it terms of economic development as well as their own personal survival.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs