Nigeria’s ‘Happy City’ Is Helpless Against Rising Sea

06:49 June 27, 2024

Nigeria’s ‘Happy City’ Is Helpless Against Rising Sea

The coastal Nigerian community of Ayetoro was founded in 1947. Often called a “Happy City,” it was meant to be a Christian utopia, or perfect place.

But now its remaining people can do little against the rising sea.

Sunken buildings are an increasingly common image along West Africa’s at-risk coast on the Atlantic Ocean. Pieces of wood stick out from the waves. Broken structures line the shore. Waves break against old electrical poles.

For years, low-lying nations have warned the world about the threat of rising seas. And Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, struggles to find an answer.

Thompson Akingboye is a church leader in Ayetoro. He said prayers against the rising sea are “on the lips of everybody” at Sunday services. But they know the solution will require far more. Even the church has been moved away from the sea, two times. “The present location is now also threatened, with the sea just 30 meters away,” Akingboye said.

Thousands of people have left. Among those who remain, Stephen Tunlese can only look at what is left of his clothing shop from a distance. Tunlese said he lost $5,500 to the sea. Now, with water everywhere, he repairs canoes. “I will stay in Ayetoro because this is my father’s land …,” he said.

In the past 30 years, Ayetoro has lost more than 10 square kilometers to the sea. Researchers studying satellite imagery of Nigeria’s coast say several things are responsible for Ayetoro’s disappearance.

Olusegun Dada is a marine geologist at the Federal University of Technology in Akure. He said one of the reasons for the losses is underwater oil operations. As oil is removed, the ground can sink, he said. But he and his colleagues note other reasons, including the deforestation of mangroves that help protect the earth. Erosion from ocean waves is another problem.

“When we started coming to this community, then we used to have fresh water,” Dada said. Today, the freshwater ecosystem is becoming a salty, marine one.

The change is costly in Nigeria.

The World Bank in a 2020 report estimated the cost of coastal degradation in three nearby Nigerian states, Lagos, Delta and Cross River, at $9.7 billion, or more than two percent of the country’s gross domestic product. It looked at erosion, flooding, mangrove loss and pollution, and noted the high rate of urbanization in the country.

Nigeria only pays attention to coastal communities, from time to time, when the yearly flooding happens. But the people of Ayetoro cannot turn away.

“Ayetoro was like a paradise, a city where everyone lived joyfully, happily,” said Arowolo Mofeoluwa, a retired civil servant. She estimated that two-thirds of the area had been slowly swept under the waves .

“This is the third house we are living in, and there are some living in the fourth house now, and we do not have enough space for ourselves again. Four or five people living in a small room, you can just imagine how painful it is,” Mofeoluwa said.

“If you look where the sea is now, that is the end of the former Ayetoro.”

For Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi, the community’s traditional leader and head of the local church, the pain is not only in the loss of land. He says the community is “losing in our socio-cultural and religious identity.”

Early this year, the Ondo state government said it would find “lasting solutions” to the threat to Ayetoro - a promise, people say, has been made before.

It might be too late for efforts to be effective, Dada, the marine geologist, said. For years, he has hoped for an environmental study to be carried out to better understand what is causing the community’s disappearance. But nothing has been done.

The Niger Delta Development Commission, a government body meant in part to deal with environmental and other issues caused by oil exploration, did not answer questions from The Associated Press about efforts to protect the community’s coastline.

The commission’s website lists a coastline protection project in Ayetoro. The project was awarded some twenty years ago and the website describes it as “ongoing.” But local people say the project never started.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Google Play VOA Learning English - Digdok