The first GYLA new decade challenge focused on the problem of rising sea levels. In February 2020 GYLA Members were asked to hand in a project describing the problem of rising sea levels for a specific city or town and to conceptualize solutions to soften the negative effects of rising sea levels. A total of 8 GYLA members participated in the challenge and handed in projects on the topic. An independent evaluation committee of GYLA Founders rated all projects and found the essay handed in by Mensah Richard Adonu to be the winner of the challenge. Read his essay on rising sea levels in Keta below.
Area identified: Keta in the Volta Region of Ghana.
Overview of Keta.
Keta is a town in the Volta Region of Ghana and the capital of the Keta Municipal Assembly (KMA, 2014). Keta is the sixty-third most populous settlement in Ghana in terms of population, with a population of 23,207 (GSS, 2012). Parts of the town were devastated by sea erosion between the 1960s and 1980s. In 1784, Fort Prinzenstein, like most slave trade forts, was built by the sea's edge. However the sea had retreated by about 600 ft. by 1907. Since then Keta has been subject to sustained sea erosion. The Bremen Factory and Coconut plantation, which were close to the high water mark in 1907, had been swept away by the sea in 1924.
Keta Lagoon is the largest lagoon in Ghana with a water area of 300 km2. It is located in a larger wetlands protected area of 1200 km2. It also has a stopping point for a large number of migratory birds and provides a breeding ground for sea turtles. Keta Lagoon, also called Anlo-Keta lagoon, is the largest of the over 90 lagoons that cover the 550 km stretch of the coastline of Ghana. This lagoon is 126.13 km in length (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2004). It is located in the eastern coast of Ghana and separated from the Gulf of Guinea by a narrow strip of sandbar. It is further surrounded by flood plains and mangrove swamps. Together they form the Keta Lagoon Ramsar site which covers 1200 km2.
There are seasonal inflows of sea water during high tide from the Gulf of Guinea and regular inflow of rivers. The rivers which drain into the sea include the Aka, the Tordzi River and Belikpa stream which enter the lagoon from the north. The lagoon is surrounded by many settlements and towns which include Anloga, Woe, Keta and Kedzi to the south, Anyako and Anlo Afiadenyigba to the north, Kodzi, Alakple and Tregui to the west and Denu and Adina to the east (Keta Municipal Assembly [KMA], 2014).
Until the emergence of coronavirus popularly known as COVID-19, which is globally shaking the world and claiming many lives flooding was the most common environmental hazard worldwide, after disease and transport accidents.
This is because of the widespread geographical distribution of river floodplains and low-lying coasts and their long-standing attractions for human settlement. Every year, research has shown that floods claim around 20,000 lives and adversely affect at least 20 million people worldwide, mostly through homelessness.
Undoubtedly, where the effects of climate change is believed to have compounded the changing weather conditions in many places, Sea level rise which occur out of climate change is noted to be an ecological crisis that results from the thermal expansion of water that takes up more space due to changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, occurring over several decades or longer period.
Interestingly, many of the world’s cities were built around sea and river banks and Keta is no exception.
The greatest problem facing people of Keta is sea erosion.
Arguably, the people of Keta especially those living around or a short distance away from the coast have suffered and are still suffering from the sea overflow each year as a result of climate change.
Although, many businesses are most times cutoff with properties ravaged due to the consistent rise in sea level each year, many in Keta still risk their lives, go back to settle when the area dries.
The first natural cause of high rise sea level in Keta is heavy rainfall. This phenomenon which occurs in June to July most times raises the water level in the sea beyond its carrying capacity and this subsequently leads to the overflow of excess water onto the immediate floodplains.
Thus, coastal flooding in Keta occurs by virtue of the fact that the sea level at a point in time is higher than the adjoining coastal areas. A typical example occurred on the 5th of September, 2008 where Dzita and Atorko all in Keta and about 500 residents were displaced through high tidal waves and the sea water subsequently took over their homes leading to the eventual collapse of some houses (KMA).
Though the coastal area has been noted as unsafe for inhabitation with its seeming challenges over the years; culture and religious conditions, socio economic reasons, improper distribution of the national cake, lack of proper sea defense mechanisms and lack government commitment and regulations still pushes people to live around the coast.
For cultural and religious reasons, majority of the residents feel the coastal areas are their ancestral and religious homes where their forefathers live, worship and set up their god's hence the need to stay in, preserve it, to aid them have spiritual contact with their ancestors and gods. Even as they live closer to the sea, plastics, dirty items and other unwanted materials of theirs always end up in the sea which always comes back when the sea level increases with its consequences.
However, even if the sea level raise and cause havoc which mostly happened in June and July each year in Keta, where livelihoods, animals, foodstuffs, personal belongings get flooded and carried away by the sea, some residents still go back to settle at the same place just to ensure they fulfill their religious and cultural obligations. Thus, they continue to stay because of social ties such as the need to stay in a family house to take care of it and save the gods.
Socio economic conditions are also reasons why the rise in sea level still persist and affect residents in Keta. Many residents in Keta find it worthwhile living in and around the coastal areas just to trade or wakeup early to start their business activities.
These areas are most times full of fisher folks, individuals mending nets and fixing/patching boats, individuals smoking and drying fish and a host of several activities that happen at the coast.
Due to how demanding and how quickly people want to catch their early birds at the shore, they find it necessary living closer to the coast to undertake their various activities and no amount of devastation, regulation drives them away as they end up settling at the coast and becomes vulnerable to the sea anytime it rises. Some residents too could not afford to move out of the coastal areas due to financial constraint or unavailability of money to pay any rent hence they risk their lives to stay.
In addition, improper distribution of the national cake is another contributory factor that prone people of Keta into the dangers associated with the rise in sea level. Lack of commitment on the part of government and its peripheries that is, local government authorities, members of parliament to fairly distribute the national cake, create available jobs and markets, decentralize authorities for funds to be ploughed back in developing the local areas building affordable house, and supporting startups has forced huge number of residents in Keta to resort to the only flourishing and available activity which is fishing and live around the coast.
Thus, aside fishing which is their major occupation, there are no other viable means for the residents to survive and make more money. Even few that engage in farming consider fishing as their major source of revenue and a large means to support livelihood since the weather patterns in the area is unreliable for cultivation.
Lack of proper sea defense mechanisms such as trees and walls along the coast is another challenge contributing to the rate at which people of Keta suffer from the high rise level of the sea. If there were to be a properly structured sea defense wall, that is tall and trees resistant to the sea, it would have reduced the rate at which people of Keta are always affected whenever the sea level rises.
One other challenging problem in Keta is indiscipline as many residents are noted not to be complying with the rules and regulations governing proper layouts and building of houses. They build along the coast without permits and flout so many planning regulations and rules. However, their noncompliance can be attributed to lack of enforcement of rules and regulations by the municipal authorities regarding housing in Keta.
Apart from the above challenges, there is also a communication gap and lack of effective campaign strategy. Most of the indigenes in Keta speak their dialect which is Ewe (Anlo) fluently, but hardly will you spot on any communication process that translates the dangers associated with climate change, what climate change and rise in sea levels are into their local language.
In a couple of times, you will only see their authorities communicating with the media in English when the harm is done. As well campaign process and strategies are very poor, there are no visual or graphical representation of dangers associated with living closer to the sea, no consistent campaign to advice people, no regular television/radio, social media, traditional media campaign that constantly reminds residents of Keta to stay away from settling at the shore.
Rapid growth of population in coastal areas is another seeming factor that leads to the general cause of climate change. Population pressure is one of the prevailing human floods in the world. As the world population increases so rapidly, the need for resources and other basic necessities such as food, water and shelter is putting pressure on nature.
This is making it tedious for resources to regenerate quickly enough to meet the ever increasing needs of the world’s teeming population. In Ghana, forests are quickly vanishing due to the need for wood for furniture and to provide shelter as well as the need for land to be used to cultivate food. The need to grow more food to feed large families has led to over cultivation and over grazing of lands. Ghana according to Global Forest Watch is noted to have record 60% rise in forest loss. Thus, as long as there is continuous cutting down of trees and forest cover, global warming will occur, temperature will rise and forces the sea level to raise which subsequently will affect and displace people living in the coastal areas.
In combating the above challenges, the first step is to embark on consistent campaigns at all levels, through all mediums such as radio, televisions, social and outdoor media to raise awareness and promote mass education. But these campaign messages must be done in the Ewe (Anlo) language that the residents understand. It must include graphical representations such as infographics, paintings and drawings hosted on outdoor media such as billboards, vans to carry out the same message. This is to take care of those who cannot read, watch television, or do not have access to radio or social media.
In order to make sure the people abide with the solutions and own it, coming up with solutions to be used for the campaign must be participatory and must originate from the people. The communication strategy best suitable for this process should be interpersonal and mass communication. Interpersonal communication such as house or door to door visit, focus group discussions, town hall meetings, should be used to engage the residents to solicit their inputs in arriving at vivid solutions and mass communication should be used to carry out the solutions arrived at.
However, indigenous means of communication such as drums, the Gongon should be used for the communication process. Entertainment education such as drama, play and music must also be included in the communication strategy to communicate vital messages regarding evacuations, and resettlement among others in a fun but educative ways to the people.
In addition, there is also a need to gather pictures of the affected areas and use it as an evidence to consistently tell story and push authorities to act. This must as well include Infographics and analysis of data with empirical evidence of lives lost, properties destroyed etc. The media as well is needed in this regard.
Again, planting of trees that are drought resistant along the coast should be considered. Coconut trees preferably, will be best for this process since they hold the soil firm and prevent massive erosion. In addition to this, there is a need to consider building resistant walls to a certain level of capacity to contain the normal sea rise level.
Constructing of water hold up area to collect spillage and water overflow during rise in sea level is also another smart means to protect people and households from coastal erosion.
Lack of commitment and consensus makes public policy ineffective in Keta. To become successful in making sure the number of people living at the shore is reduced drastically and they don’t go back reside at these areas, there must be a deliberate, greater responsibility, and commitment on local political leadership and authorities to use available resources to provide alternative jobs, startup support and make funds available to aid residents who want to learn trade or other skills. It is believed that when indigenes have other viable job venture, which equally fetch them same amount or more money than they gets in fishing, they will definitely leave the shore to own their business outside the coastal regions.
Re- settlement though clashes with norms and traditions should be considered. Government and its agencies must see it needful to evacuate people living in Keta closer to the sea to a safer ground. These safer grounds must be attractive and have all basic human needs such as regular flow of water, light, market and other things that will comfort and appeals to the residents to move in with an ease. These apartments can be free or made affordable for fisher folks. The cost can be spread for over five years durations to enable them to pay. These areas can also have fish ponds and government and local authorities must train the indigenes on how to handle fish farming and ponds even at their own backyard. It is believed since they can get their fishing activities even at their homes, many will opt to evacuate the shore of the sea.
Plastic waste materials are also part of the havoc. To collect and prevent plastic waste materials from going back to the sea and entering the sea, Swash wash nets are needed at various gutters that link to the sea. It can be designed in a way that both bottles in the sea and those that tries entering at fresh can be gathered and recycled and used for building the resistant walls. The recycling of plastic into building materials is emerging globally. This is environmentally friendly and would reduce plastic waste at the sea side.
Another generational solution to solve climate change and its risk is to incorporate climate change agenda into educational curriculum and decentralize the idea for local people to own. From kindergarten through tertiary to postgraduate level, curriculum must be developed for climate change. This curriculum must include gradual human and natural activities occurring globally and nationally that is causing climate change likewise provided solutions. There must also be some mechanism to educate individuals who are not in school through informal means.
Lastly, there is a need to control the high rate at which people are giving birth. The world indeed must downsize the rate at which population is growing to prevent pressure on available resources as people sometimes put up settlement at areas such as the coastal site.
There is no guarantee the global warming and climate change in general can be corrected. This is because it is difficult to control people’s behaviors worldwide. Therefore it is essential that these plans mitigate the occurrence of land erosion in Keta in the near future and beyond.
Written by: Mensah Richard Adonu