Togo: Future Erosion
This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.
By Joshua Turner, Climate and Society 2014
Charcoal offers a cheap and easy source of energy in Togo where I spent part of my summer. For many people living in the small country in Sub-Saharan West Africa, charcoal is used to fire up stoves for cooking.
One day, walking through the open-air market in my neighborhood of Amoutivé in Lomé, the capital of Togo, I stumbled upon a little boy sitting on a pile of charcoal. A local woman with a basket balanced on her head filled with eggs and bananas approached and bought a few of these ashy rocks. His hands were blackened from handling it. The image stuck with me.
While in Togo, I was an intern for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, consulting with both the German and Togolese Red Cross. In Togo, they are hoping to pilot a program to establish an early warning system for natural disasters like flooding using available forecasts. The idea is that with adequate forecasting, both short and longer term, certain ‘no regrets’ actions can be taken in advance to reduce or eliminate disaster risk and humanitarian crises.
Land use change has long been seen as a feedback and exacerbating factor in drought and climate disasters in the Sahel, touching mostly the extreme northern and most impoverished region of Togo. Yet in my interviews with stakeholders at the universities and various government agencies, another climate and land use change threat came up multiple times.
Just a short drive from the capital, the impact of coastal erosion has had a rapid and dramatic impact on the already small Togolese coastline. Just east of Lomé, a large port is being constructed to accommodate the burgeoning possibility of large scale maritime trading, promising jobs and economic vitality.
According to experts I met with at the University, this new port has blocked natural sedimentation processes that replenish beaches to the east. A new equilibrium with the sea was achieved, 50 feet further inland than before. About 20 to 30 feet out, it is easy to see the crumbled asphalt remains of what was once the Togolese Coastal Highway.
This loss of coastline will only become worse as sea levels rise, putting further strain on freshwater and land resources in the country. Despite the multiple effects of climate change that will inevitably be felt in Togo, from increased flooding, drought, and changing patterns of dangerous diseases, nearly every stakeholder I spoke with wanted to better understand coastal erosion in the past and especially the future.
A representative of the UN Development Program in Togo, who liaises with the Ministry of Environment, also mentioned education initiatives for primary school children, teaching them about climate change and Togo’s role in the fight against it. Hopefully this investment will recruit bright young minds into vital careers to help this vulnerable nation adapt and mitigate. It struck me as a noble effort that hopefully does not only take place theoretically in the minds of a few optimistic bureaucrats.
Yet despite the efforts to educate the young and the dramatic display of erosion, the image that sticks in my mind is the little boys hands tainted with coal, dusted with the crumbled ash of future climate crises. It feels wrong to see this child contributing to the problem and to tacitly jeopardize his own future and that of his country. Of course his contribution is only a small one, but it feels irresponsible to do nothing and sit by idly as the future erodes away.