Ivory Coast tourist haven battles coastal erosion and rogue waves

A view of the ruins of a hotel under construction, that was recently abandoned after being destroyed by a sudden rise in water level which damaged several hotels and houses in the coastal towns east of Abidjan in August, in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast September 20, 2023.REUTERS/Luc Gnago
A view of the ruins of a hotel under construction

Hotel owner Habib Hassan Nassar had to pile thousands of sandbags on a narrow beach in southeast Ivory Coast every week to save his establishment from the rising water.

The hotel Kame Surf Camp in Assinie can maintain its position on the beach despite the waves enclosing it on three sides and damaging the nearby businesses in a recent surge, all because of a sandbag wall that is several meters high.

Since this Gulf of Guinea beach was considerably broader when Nassar, 50, first visited the region as a boy, it has taken him five minutes to get to the seashore. “Frankly, I am exhausted,” he remarked.

He now spends up to one million CFA francs ($1,640) per week to buy truckloads of sand, hire laborers to put it into bags, and fortify the hotel’s defenses to keep the water at bay and keep his company viable.

These costs are probably going to rise. According to U.N. climate scientists, 12 major coastal towns in Africa might lose up to $86.5 billion in damages from rising sea levels by 2050 if adaptation is not implemented. Among these cities is Abidjan, the commercial hub of Ivory Coast, located near Assinie on the coast.

Wearing a skull T-shirt with the motto “Call of the Wave,” Nassar stood inspecting his sea wall and stated, “A small business like mine, all it can do is fill sandbags and put them out front and pray for the best.”

In April, the World Meteorological Organization cautioned that the fast-expanding populations in West Africa’s low-lying coastal areas are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. This process is increasing globally due to catastrophic glacier melt and record ocean heat levels.

The National Coastal Environment Management Program of Ivory Coast states that the significant rate of beach loss in a resort that serves as a major economic center makes coastal erosion at the palm-fringed tourist haven of Assinie particularly concerning. It states that the country’s average annual coastal erosion rate is between 0.5 and 3 meters.

A series of rogue waves over many days in August highlighted Assinie’s and other coastal villages east of Abidjan’s vulnerability. Large waves tore onto the coast, smashing into homes and businesses as they struck higher than before.

“I was fortunate enough to foresee… but if you look around me, everything else has been completely destroyed,” Nassar said, remembering the crashing sound of the waves, which were between six and seven meters high, hitting his makeshift ramparts.

The water has dropped from its height more than three months after the onslaught, but other hotels and restaurants are finding it difficult to reopen after the waves destroyed sea-facing walls, carried away beach huts, and submerged swimming pools.

Such catastrophic occurrences are becoming more frequent, according to Eric Djagoua, coordinator of the National Coastal Environment Management Program, who told Reuters that more political will was required to safeguard sensitive coastal infrastructure.

It is obvious how urgent this is. Based on a 2019 World Bank report, coastal regions in West Africa are home to one-third of the continent’s population and provide at least 56% of its economic activity.

Wealthier nations are not meeting their pledge to donate $100 billion per year to assist poorer nations in adapting to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, even as demands increase.

It’s already too late for some people.

Standing among the debris of his house and hotel, which the waves destroyed in August, is 60-year-old Alex Messan Kouassi, thirty kilometers down the coast from Kame Surf Camp.

“Everything is gone. … the sea came and took it all. What can I do?”

 

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