Coastal hazards in West Africa: Improving decision-making at national and regional levels through the promotion of standardized coastal language

By: Philippe Jochaud

The West African litoral, as well as Cameroon, are among the most vulnerable regions of the world to the effects of coastal erosion and climate change. The situation is critical: on some areas, almost two metres of beach disappear each year. 

A number of pressures are at play. The rapid urbanization of coastal areas drastically increased human pressure on natural resources, especially water, land or natural habitats. The construction of infrastructures and collateral sand extraction directly leads to significant coastal retreat. Additionally, these threats are now being exacerbated by climate change and disaster risks. 

As a result, coastal areas are undergoing alarming environmental degradation leading to deaths (due to floods, air and water pollution), losses of assets (houses, infrastructure) and damages to critical ecosystems (mangroves, marine habitat). According to a recent study by the World Bank, coastal degradation causes more than 13,000 deaths a year in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo, primarily due to floods, air and water pollution. In 2017 alone, flooding, erosion, and pollution cost about 5.3% of the GDP of these four countries ($3.8 billion). 

Addressing those major threats requires strong coordinated action and mobilizing all sectors and actors involved. To do so, it is crucial to ensure the provision of reliable and up-to-date information, shared and made available at the various decision-making levels with a view to improving the strategic quality of decisions related to the development, occupation and conservation of coastal areas.

Several methods and approaches exist to assess coastal risks and manage vulnerability to climate change in coastal areas. Nevertheless, no harmonised or standardised method had been chosen by the countries from the West African and Cameroonian shores. In 2018, WACOM (West African Coastal Observation Mission) identified the Coastal Hazard Wheel (CHW) as a relevant tool allowing multi-risk assessment of coastal hazards and the identification of management options through a mix of qualitative and quantitative data in geographical contexts characterized by limited data, resources and institutional capacity, such as the coastal areas of West Africa and Cameroon. They requested the assistance of the CTCN to update and start using the tool and working at the regional level with a standardized coastal language.

The consortium, formed by GlobalCAD (lead), WE&B, Meteosim, and WASCAL, was selected by the CTCN to complete this task. During the course of 2019, we supported eight WACOM countries (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Cameroon) in harmonizing their coastal risks management with the Coastal Hazard Wheel tool. Beyond providing on-line training and supporting the countries in updating their databases, the assignment included the realization of the first regional and national mappings of the coastal hazards for Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Cameroon and the identification of related management options.

The mapping confirmed that the most important hazards at the regional level are erosion and flooding, with more than 50% of the coastline classified with a very high level of risk. Gradual inundation and salt water intrusion risks are also remarkable with over 60% of the coastline classified with a high level of risk. With regards to the management options, ecosystem-based measures are gaining increasing popularity versus traditional non-reversible hard engineering measures. It is key to always consider coastal areas as a system comprising many other sub-systems, whose functions are highly interlinked. Selection of management options shall be done in a holistic manner, including the integration of the socio-economic aspects.

These results were presented in a final regional workshop organized by GlobalCAD in November in Dakar, Senegal, gathering WACOM National Antennas and CTCN National Designated Entities from the eight countries along with other representatives from relevant regional actors such as West Africa Coastal Areas Management Program (WACA) from World Bank, Abidjan Convention, IUCN, RAMPAO or PRCM. The gathering allowed sharing views and approaches on how to address coastal risks management in the region and paved the way towards an improved coordination and resilience of West African countries and Cameroon.

Regional workshop held in Dakar in November 2019

Cover image source: WACA Program, World Bank Group