Sea surges could uproot millions in Nigeria megacity

LAGOS (Reuters) - Millions of people in Nigeria could be displaced by rising sea levels in the next half century, as ocean surges swamp some of Africa’s most expensive real estate and its poorest slums, scientists say.

Africa’s most populous nation, stretching from the southern fringe of the Sahara to the Gulf of Guinea, could come under triple attack from climate change as the desert encroaches on its northern pastures, rainfall erodes farmland in its eastern Niger Delta, and the Atlantic Ocean floods its southern coast.

But the greatest concern is the sprawling commercial capital Lagos, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, spread over creeks and lagoons and dangerously close to sea level.

“Lagos is a megacity with 15 million people, half of them at two meters (6 ft) above sea level, and that puts them at risk as hardly any other big city in the world,” Stefan Cramer, Nigeria director of Germany’s Heinrich Boll Foundation think-tank and an adviser to the Nigerian government on climate change, said.

Speaking at the launch this week of a Nigerian documentary on climate change, Cramer said most scientists predicted sea levels would rise by one meter over the next 50 years or so.

“In 50 years with a one-meter sea level rise, two million, three million people would be homeless ... By the end of the century we would have two meters and by that stage Lagos is gone as we know it,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Lagos state government has been battling to reinforce the long sand spits such as Bar Beach -- whose wooden shacks are a favorite hangout for touts and hustlers known as “Area Boys” -- which protect the mouth of the main lagoon from the Atlantic.

But the effect would be limited and little was being done in terms of urban planning to adjust to the risks, Cramer said.


Nigeria’s economic growth, fueled by its huge oil deposits, has been among the fastest in Africa. This has drawn rural and immigrant laborers to the factories and docks of Lagos, while white-collar workers flock to its banks and blue-chip firms.

Demand for housing has exploded at both ends of the market. Shanty towns where wooden huts perch on stilts have grown into the lagoon while engineers reclaim land to build multi-million dollar villas and apartments on the exclusive Lekki peninsula.

“Most of the construction in Lekki is bound to fail because it is built on sand which has never been properly consolidated,” Cramer said. “There’s only one option: moving to higher ground.”

Scientists predict heavier rains and higher sea levels could wipe out much of Bayelsa, one of three main states in the Niger Delta, a vast network of mangrove creeks home to isolated villages and to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.

Nigeria’s oil industry increasingly is moving offshore and onshore installations in the delta’s shallow swampland can be raised to protect them, meaning the impact on the sector would be limited. But villagers will be defenseless.

“We may lose quite a good percentage of Lagos ... and probably the whole of Bayelsa,” said Emmanuel Obot, executive director of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation.

“If that happens, the refugee problem will be so massive that I don’t think Nigeria is ready,” he said.

The creators of “Global Warming: Nigeria Under Attack” plan to show the documentary in schools and churches around Nigeria.

With scenes of villagers sitting outside mud huts discussing using less wood in their cooking, or farmers showing crops swept away by flooding, the aim is to tailor the message of films like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” to an African audience.

“Luckily the scientists are telling us that we haven’t run out of time entirely and that if we take the issue seriously, it might not be too late,” said producer Desmond Majekodunmi.

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Editing by Randy Fabi and Michael Roddy