Ivory Coast town sinking underwater as coastal erosion advances

LAHOU-KPANDA, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - The village of Lahou-Kpanda is sinking. In the past 30 years, residents of the once-thriving historic town 140 km southwest of the Ivorian capital Abidjan have seen their prison, hospital and school be subsumed by the waters.

Some of the villagers have started to exhume the bodies of relatives, for fear of their graves being lost to the sea. Not all have managed to do so on time.

“Today we live in anguish. What will happen tomorrow if no one comes to the help of the village? We will disappear,” said Daniel Loha, one of the village elders, walking by the graves.

“In Africa, our parents, our ancestors are very important to us and to see them scattered in the sea is heartbreaking and every day that God brings to us we are haunted.”

In West Africa, where a third of the population lives along the coast, rising sea levels linked to the melting of the polar ice caps are conspiring with coastal erosion to slowly submerge communities.

Slideshow ( 16 images )

Yet experts say poorly planned construction too close to the coast or using coastal sand as a building material worsens erosion and renders buildings vulnerable.

Every year in the main town of Grand-Lahou, in which Lahou-Kpanda is located, the water advances further. It had to be relocated nearly 20 km inland in the 1970s.

Residents tried to include Grand-Lahou on the list of UNESCO protected sites in an effort to shore up funding to save the peninsula, but local experts say it is too late as historical buildings have already been lost.

The degradation of its coast cost Ivory Coast nearly $2 billion in 2017 or nearly 5% of its GDP, according to the World Bank, making it one of the worst-hit countries in West Africa.

For the whole of West Africa that figure rises to over $3.8 billion a year.

Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly, editing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini and Alexandra Hudson