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December 21, 2023

Ghana’s need for better nature-based solutions to combat rising coastline erosion

By Ghanaian journalist Jeffrey Nyabor. First published in Citi News Room.

It’s Tuesday May 30, 2023, and I am in the village of Fuveme Agorkedzi in the Volta Region.

Residents seem anxious and a handful of women have been seen moving belongings from their houses that have just been ravaged by tidal waves.

This is not the first time such an incident is happening in the community.

Residents in the community of Fuveme Agorkedzi say it is a situation they have had to deal with for several years.

“Since 2015/2016, we have been suffering from these tidal waves. It has been terrible and devastating anytime this happens,” said Raphael Agbenavor, the assemblyman for the area.

“People have relocated more than four times after their structures have been destroyed by the sea and putting another structure up is not easy for them, meanwhile those investments can go into the children’s education but are lost to the sea. So, it has been a terrible and devastating situation we are going through,” he continued.

The community, like hundreds of others in Ghana, sits along the Gulf of Guinea south of Ghana, and are heavily exposed to storms, erosion and flooding associated with climate change.

Gulf of Guinea south of Ghana. (Image: Jeffrey Nyabor).

At a neighboring town, Agavedzi also in the Volta Region, the situation is no different.

Community folks are always on tenterhooks between April and July every year when heavy rains are expected.

On different occasions that the disaster has struck, residents have had to seek temporary shelter inland after losing their homes to tidal waves linked to the global sea level rise, putting further pressure on the coast.

At Keta, Fort Prinzestine, a national monument and a once vibrant tourist attraction looks pale.

Part of the fort, used by the Germans in 1800 has been destroyed by tidal waves and stands to be completely swallowed by the sea if the sea level continues to rise and the waves hit directly at the coast according to a 2022 research by the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies at the University of Ghana.

Jacob Afetorgbor, a local businessman says he fears the fort will suffer the same fate as Fort Kongenstein, located in the Greater Accra Region.

Kongenstein, established in the 18th century, has been lost to rising sea levels and persistent tidal wave attacks.

“When the tides were high in the Ada area and they lost the fort over there, a sea defense wall was constructed and that seem to have brought a lot of pressure to our side. I was born and raised here and I think that if nothing is done, we will also lose our fort here,” he said.

‘Broken defense wall’

At least since 1997, successive governments in Ghana have begun sea defense wall projects with the hope to tackle the perennial tidal waves frustrating coastal dwellers.

With a US$94million loan from the United States Export-Import Bank (EXIM Bank), the Keta Sea Defence project, covering an area of about 8 kilometers was commenced in June 2000.

When the first phase of the Blekusu stretch of the defense project, located in Keta, Volta Region, was completed in 2019 residents hoped that the second phase would begin immediately.

It has been almost five years and work is yet to commence with the second phase despite the fact that the government, pledged for GHC10m (US$830,586) in 2022.

The government through the Minister for Finance in the 2023 Budget Statement (paragraph 691), listed the project, among several others, that it will commence this year, 2023.

“In 2023, Government will continue with the implementation of the ongoing projects and also, commence additional coastal protection works at Blekusu (Phase II), Apam, Axim (Phase II), La and Teshie, Dansoman (Phase II), Shama, Ningo-Prampram (Section II), Tema New Town, Anloga, Takoradi and Maritime University Coastal Protection Projects,” the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Atta said on the floor of Parliament in November 2022.

Eight months after the promise and no real action has been taken and this is because the allocated funds is yet to be released according to the Ministry of Works and Housing.

The Member of Parliament for Keta constituency, Kwame Gakpey insists that the project is a permanent solution to the havoc.

“The time has come for the government to act quickly by resuming work on the sea defense project once and for all,” Mr. Gakpey said during a tour to some areas affected by a tidal rave attack in April this year.

 ‘Accra troubles’

170km west of the Volta Region is Accra, Ghana’s capital. Here, the problem of coastal erosion is not uncommon.

Communities such as Glefe, Gbegbeyise, and Shiabu, continue to suffer the impact of climate change.

Local media in Ghana is awash with several reports of locals rendered homeless due to the phenomenon.

“Two years ago, I lost my local pub that was fetching me good money. The sea one day came and washed everything away. Since then, I can see that the sea is gradually eating into the land and more facilities along this line are gradually being swallowed up,” said NiiAyiArmah, a local resident at Glefe.

Together with other local residents, they have sent petitions to the government for a sea defense wall to solve the problem.

‘Nature saving nature’

Can a sea defense wall address the problem? Not quite, according to Prof. KwasiAppeaningAddo, the director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Ghana.

In the Volta Region, Greater Accra region, Central Region and Western Region, there are more than eight different blocks of sea defense walls under construction by the government.

Besides the huge cost of such projects, the environmentalist said they are not effective.

He says the there must be a shift from “hard engineering solutions” like sea defense walls to environmentally friendly approaches.

“The government’s approach is ‘transferring the problem’ from one location to the other,” he said.

He argues that building a defense wall at one end of the coast is increasing pressure of tidal waves at another.

“Sea defense has never been the best solution although it is an option. The incidence of coastal erosion is very natural and is only hastened by human activity. What we can consider is how to manage the situation. Solutions like growing the vegetation along the coast, getting these mangroves up are very important along the coast and are better solutions,” he argued.

A 2013 scientific study revealed that Ghana loses about two metres of its coastline to erosion annually and if urgent steps are not taken – using nature-based approaches, more devastation should be expected.

“If nothing is done about it, then we are likely to experience what we don’t want to experience because the sea level is rising as a result of climate change,” Prof. Addo said.

The CEO of the government’s Coastal Development Authority, Jerry Ahmed Shaib in an interview said the problem of global warming and climate change is worsening and the impact on Ghana gives indications that sea defense projects may not help much.

He said his organization is working on a variety of solutions to the problem, including the construction of defensive barriers, but would prioritize the migration of certain coastal residents to avoid a future calamity.

“The government must be allowed to take the necessary steps, including relocating people and of course also pursuing the green agenda. Also, ensuring that sea defenses are well-built, I think we will get somewhere,” he said.

‘Community action’

Meanwhile, some local community members have began growing mangroves along the coast to reduce the spate of erosion.

According to the World Bank, mangroves are some of the most effective natural protection against tropical storms acting as wave and wind breakers. They protect coastlines from erosion, reduce flooding by absorption of excess water and provide a congenial environment for birds, crabs and fish to breed, a report by the Bank said.

Bright Adzagba, manager at Keta Ramsar Center, one of the local non-governmental organizations leading the activity says “the erosion situation is getting dire and our little contribution includes planting mangroves. We collaborate with different NGOs, mobilize community people and plant the mangroves. We are hoping that this will expand significantly and save the situation.”

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