What a Changing Climate May Look Like From This Part of the World.

The Bar Beach. Victoria Island, Lagos.

I have lived in Lagos for what should practically have been the whole of my life, except for a few weeks every year when I travel out to the “great abroad” that is the East.

Back then, I remember visiting the Bar Beach a few times, every trip was remarkable especially to my young mind. The way the water spanned endlessly; the thrashing of waves that always seemed to pull anyone who dared stand on the banks of the sand where it always landed – like it was offering an invitation into the body of the ocean but was not waiting for anyone to decide whether or not they wanted to accept it. The sheer enormity of the ocean; how big, how blue, how beautiful and by it, I was always fascinated. Growing up put another dimension to that fascination because while in my early youth, I came to be wowed by one of the world’s wonders, being at the beach later introduced me to a marvellous brand of serenity. Standing in the presence of immense greatness does have an uncannily indistinct way of revealing just how small, how puny, how futile one really is in a grand scheme of things in which, all of the seemingly great oceans of the world put together still wouldn’t create the slightest of dents. I remember then we either would park the car or get off a bus some distance off from the beach itself; it was more than a five-minute walk (I think this was Lekki), one done preferably without shoes for reasons which in retrospect, serve for really nostalgic memories.

Today the beaches are closer than ever, a fact that does not need to be restated during the rainy season as events of the ocean “overflowing” its banks and flooding has become annually recurring events these days and that is compared with a few times a decade prior to the early 2000s. The islanders can tell you all about it; when it rains lightly on mainland Lagos, it floods on the island.

Flood risk assessment depicting the consequences of the rise in sea levels and how coastal cities may be affected by storm surges.

Measured to be increasing at a rate of 1.4 inches per annum since 1995 at least, the ocean brings floods which spread their salty embraces as storm surges, way past the coastline and for kilometres at times and this goes without stating other imperative effects like changes in water levels at high tide. I suppose one could think about it as some analogy of an expression “where man meets nature”; and in this case, having all the makings of an unhappy (re?)union.

Admittedly 1.4 inches per annum doesn’t seem like a lot – unless you are a man who is 5’11” in height. However, one should first have to consider the question: “how much water one would need to be added into a literal ocean for it to PHYSICALLY reflect substantially on a body that huge. A body, which, by the way, covers a staggering 71% of the earth’s surface and second; from where is this water coming? The short answers are melting ice caps and depleting inland water sources (rivers, lakes, etc.) and changing rainfall patterns; the imperatives and associated liabilities associated with them, not so short, actually a discussion for another day.

However, increased flood risk in coastal cities is one of the dangers that global warming itself poses. Many famous cities like Lagos, London, New York, Lisbon, which are not only usually very densely populated, but also are the economic hubs of the countries in which they are located with combined GDPs running way past hundreds of billions of dollars, and supporting estimated trillions in existing infrastructure. The imminent threat of flooding that comes with almost every storm in present days can no longer be understated. For example, “flash floods” have become quite usual in the United States especially around the seaboards where day to day activities have been reportedly as being grounded for long hours even days at a stretch. New York itself has been reported as having its rate of heavy precipitation increase by around 70% compared with the late 50’s with sea levels rising in the region to the tune of about 12 inches 1. In London it is a similar tale, while places like Yorkshire have notoriously become victims of intense flooding for two straight years and with very strong prospects of a third consecutive year in 2017 2. This goes without stating the increase in intensity of devastation that comes in with the monsoon rains in South East Asia. In Nigeria, since 2010 the events of flooding have increased successively. I can remember the floods in 2012 and even in the midst of the difficulties it created, how people made jokes on topics ranging from infidelity to structural integrity. In that year alone, more than three hundred people were reported to have died through the floods and an additional two million more were displaced nationwide. The economic losses ran into billions only to have the floods repeat in 2013, then 2014, then 2015 and 2016 3.

I should chip in at this point that the climate is already changing as the earth gets even warmer. We are way past the point of “preventing” climate change. Our task now is to live with it and try as best we can to reverse the negative impacts that it comes with while working to ensure our survival in every sphere of our existence ranging from socioeconomic to geographical and even political (I hope to discuss the Boko Haram and Herdsmen Issue and the climate change factor that underlines it sometime later. Stick around).

We have little power over the rains and they will come as they will but we can keep being victims and suffer heavy losses annually or we can embrace the challenge and use the coming storm water as a resource.

The more developed countries of the world have employed data oriented hydrological drainage systems (before a lot of them had to deal with more that is) with respect to topography and natural drainage channels, to work with the storms, channelling coming rain water in ways neither overly stress existing infrastructure nor disrupt movement or everyday activity. However an adaptation framework to work with Nigeria is entirely another lengthy article.

However, information regarding the rise in the sea levels has been rife in news and media publications in the past decade, so much that I believe that a lot of the informed/target populace has become desensitized to it and this “phenomenon” has been widely written about albeit with varying array of opinions and findings 4,5. Bringing it closer to home, reading news articles or watching news segments on TV have an inherently impersonal feel. For instance, we hear almost daily about people dying in Syria – it is sad but really not anyone’s business, not here anyway; “a collapsed building in Lagos” – “that’s terrible, I know that place”; “20 people killed by herdsmen” – “scroll up”; and if you’re fortunate enough to follow the right sources you may have seen something like “sea levels are up by about 8cm compared with pre-1995 levels” 6 how do you react to that? And if that still seems like its just “8cm”, visit the island when it rains and see what 8cm can do, then ask yourself if you really want to see it get to 20cm or perhaps more.

A more practical approach to warn about the reality of the changing sea levels. I think things like these should be on every beach.

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