Nigeria’s swamp island faces imminent waterlogging

Written by By Sadie Gurman, CNN

Following news last week that other countries have joined the U.S. in blocking a climate change deal at the Hague, Nigeria’s immediate future will be decided by a decision to be taken by the United Nations at the end of the month.

However, a small village on the Niger Delta’s Lagos Island has been facing its own climate change crisis.

A circular between the World Bank and state government says that Lagos will be inundated by the sea in just 16 years. However, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has not made any commitment to deal with the flood risk, leaving residents to wonder what the future will bring.

Olaoluwa Johnson, a journalist working for Echo Online, joins CNN Style to explain the tiny community’s struggle with rising sea levels.

swamp island village is literally under threat

It all began back in 2000, when residents of swamp island had already stopped planting crops on their land, and only focused on fishing. They’d been grappling with the threat of floods for years, thanks to an unpredictable seasonal sea which regularly cuts through the island during the dry season.

When the coastal area was first mapped out in 1997, it was projected to be under water in 15 years time.

But after a study came out in 2006 which advised against it, the government and the World Bank began making plans to relocate the 1,000 residents. The 1.2 km² (0.5 sq mi) swampland will need to move 60 meters (200 ft) inland, and new bridges will need to be built, in a massive undertaking that could take up to 10 years to complete.

But two days ago, the World Bank informed residents the evacuation was put on hold, with the governor of the state of Bayelsa arguing the relocation is not practical in the current climate. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates Lagos’ sea level rise at 3 meters (10 feet) by 2080.

Unfortunately, the lagoon around the island has already begun drying up, with an average of 4.5 cm (1 inch) a day.

What’s to be done?

But while the lack of action around the relocation has created a sense of hopelessness and despair, the residents see hope in a petition, spearheaded by SOS Lagos and The Climate Mission.

“There’s a lot of anger here, and the people are slowly becoming a community. They see that it’s not in their interest to leave their homeland and their water,” says Adewale Ajayi, a volunteer working with the Nigerian governmental agency, as he prepares to distribute leaflets urging the relocation.

“They’re determined to fight for it,” he adds. “I think we need a lot of help, and that we’re going to have to sit down and discuss what the future holds. We need to plan for the future of Lagos and Nigeria, but those living on swamp island want to stay put.”

Yet, the residents still feel like they have little to gain from being relocated, and their biggest complaint is that the government has not consulted them about the plan.

“The government just came with all these ideas and then said ‘we’ll move you.’ But we are people with families, and we have plans,” explains Adebimpe Sogunle, a nurse in the community, who believes the government should give the community more money to live in the area.

“We only want the government to be transparent in this situation. We want to know what we’re getting into, what we’ll gain from this, and what it will do to our quality of life.”

Click here to view the video in full or check out the behind-the-scenes slideshow below.

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