BAGUIDA, Togo (Reuters) – The Togolese coastal community of Baguida has always had the ocean at its doorstep, but the waves have lapped higher and higher in recent years, destroying homes and locals’ hopes for the future.
On the outskirts of the capital Lome, crumbling abandoned buildings dot the shoreline, their empty windows staring out at the advancing water. Remaining residents are fearful.
“I have three children. I think that one day the sea will take us by surprise, we won’t know where to go,” said 27-year-old Olivia Afanubo Hollalie, standing outside her single-storey house, metres from the surf.
Global greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating coastal erosion worldwide and the countries on West Africa’s Atlantic shore are among those most at risk. The rising waters may wash away more than half of Togo’s sandy shore by the end of the century, according to a March study in the journal Nature Climate Change.
In the village of Doevikope on Baguida beach, three-quarters of residents have moved away since the ocean swallowed precious agricultural land, the school’s playing field and the cemetery.
“The sea wants to take even our dead,” lamented Chief Togbui Dorllayi, who lives in a makeshift shelter of straw and planks while he rebuilds his home for the sixth time.
The damage wrought by the encroaching waves is more than just physical.
Environmental degradation in the coastal areas of four West African countries, including Togo, cost $3.8 billion, or 5.3% of their national output in 2017, according to a World Bank study published last year.
“The sea has destroyed everything. Now I’m tired. I am also old. I don’t know how I’m going to eat,” said 70-year-old Assah Kokou Akpebiotor, who has lived on Baguida’s shrinking sands his whole life.
Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones