Impacts on water resources in African deltas and Pacific islands

17 July 2009

(c) Etiosa Uyigue. Niger Delta.In response to our last posting on the drying of the Tana Delta in Kenya, Etiosa Uyigue writes about the challenges facing the Niger Delta in Nigeria (Africa), home to about 25% of the country’s population. Between 1960 and 1970, a mean sea level rise of 0.462m was recorded along the Nigerian coast (largely due to local coastal subsidence or sinking). Flooding of low-lying areas in the Niger Delta region has already been observed, and with further impacts from climate change, problems with floods and intrusion of sea-water into freshwater sources and ecosystems will increase, destroying stabilizing systems such as mangroves and affecting agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods in general. The Niger Delta could lose over 15,000 km2 of land by the year 2100 with a one meter rise in sea level, while at least 80% of the people of the Niger Delta will be displaced. At the same time, Nigeria has seen a decline in rainfall since the beginning of the 1960s. Farmers can no longer predict the rain and know precisely when to plant their crops. Farmers usually begin cultivation at the end of the dry season, when the rain begins to fall. They plant their crops after the first or second rain in the month of March or April. After the first rain, rain falls periodically till the months of June/July (the peak of the rainy season). Rainfall within the period before the peak is needed for the optimum performance of many crops. Because of changes in the rainfall pattern, however, farmers who plant after the first or second rain, experience huge losses when rains are delayed beyond the usual, due to climatic changes.

It bothers me to constantly hear media and leading experts talk about the early signs and impacts of global climate change on small islands and their people, exclaims Faustino Yarofaisug from the Federated States of Micronesia (North Pacific). It is as if the island were like ships tightly tied down on both ends to a fixed object during low tide and when the tide rises, the water level increases and eventually pours into the ship, thereby rendering abandonment the only option. Although it makes sense, this is not the ultimate threat to the continued survival of innocent people on these island countries and their culture. Before the sea level finally surpasses the ground level or shorelines of the atolls, the people must leave behind their home country in search of a completely new home. The grave concern is the shrinking of the freshwater table underneath the islands that supports all life forms. As the sea level rises, the salt water expands inland under the islands thereby shrinking the supply of freshwater. As the brackish water extends and freshwater shrinks, edible crops that have been the source of life for these people will die out thereby making these islands uninhabitable. This process happens before one actually sees the waves - whether small or big - pour over the islands, and before they are declared to be inundated and their inhabitants, the first victims of sea level rise.

To read more about the Niger Delta, click here. This and other recent inputs are posted on the website under the topic 'Early Impacts'.

Please do keep sending in your observations and experiences of the impacts of climate change on your lands, resources or livelihoods.

Share your views and experiences by writing to peoples@climatefrontlines.org

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