For long, settlers on the fringe of the Kuramo beach survived several attempts by the authorities to dislodge them. But it was not the bulldozers, that over ran the community; it was ocean surge. The consequences were not palatable nonetheless, writes Bennett Oghifo
The bad news is that the surge at Kuramo Beach is only one in a series that should be expected in the years ahead. What is not certain is the frequency of these surge events because of the absence of early warning systems, according to experts in ocean studies. Global warming has caused a rise in sea level from melting ice and from frequent violent storms.
The Atlantic Ocean on which Nigeria sits has bloated in the past few drowning-years, obliterating some coastal communities, displacing families and causing communal conflicts as people search for new means of livelihood in unfamiliar terrains.
Recent studies show that Okrika in Rivers State, just like most important towns on the Atlantic in the nation's Niger Delta have yielded to the advancing ocean. On account of this, the Federal Executive Council recently put N8.3 billion on the table for the dredging and reclamation of land in Okrika and surrounding communities of Rivers State. These communities are believed to have lost 20 percent of their land to coastal erosion. The dredging is designed to reclaim about 70 hectares.
The story of last Saturday night's Ocean surge at the Kuramo Beach has been told and, of how unsuspecting women and children as well as people in love embrace were washed to sea. The devastation went beyond Kuramo to other coastal communities in Lagos like Coconut Beach in Badagry, Ojo waterfront areas, Akodo and Kaiyetoro-Eleko Beaches as well as the Beaches of the Lekki Peninsula, and Takwa Bay.
Predictably, Sea water flooded some estates on reclaimed land at Maiyegun and Alpha Beach and in other areas of Lekki, threatening real estate worth billions of naira. More importantly is the looming consequences to Lagos of not protecting the Kuramo Beach from future Ocean surges. "We can only imagine the effect of Sea water flowing into the Lagoon through the Kuramo Lake," said an environmentalist, Ade Sanome.
Kuramo Lake is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the Kuramo Beach, a stretch of sand along the Gulf of Guinea.
Eko Atlantic City...
As it is said, 'water finds its level'. This is the reason environmentalists are calling for a study on the impact of the huge Eko Atlantic City project on the Lagos coastline and, even beyond it.
"Eko Atlantic City and other federal/state projects along the Lagos coast need to undertake sea-level rise risk assessment that will; model the predicted sea-level changes in a range of scenarios-time series, incremental climate change, shear events and storm frequency and intensity," said Professor Emmanuel Oladipo, Geographer, international consultant on climate change, IEM, Nigeria/Niger Project Niamey, Niger Republic.
Oladipo, who was at a roundtable on Eko Atlantic City and Lagos State's climate change adaptation project held at the Lagos Liaison Office of the Heinrich Boll Foundation Nigeria organised recently, said it was imperative for a sea level rise risk assessment to be conducted on the Eko Atlantic City project to determine level of safety.
The round table, according to its conveners, was based on the premise that the Atlantic coast of West African countries has been exposed to erosion for a number of years. Lagos, the biggest city along the coast, experiences regular flooding in areas lying below sea level, whilst the coast line gradually loses land to the sea. The fishing communities and residents of the new urban settlements risk losing their houses and livelihoods. International experts advised Lagos State Government to build a seven kilometer long sea wall to prevent further degradation.
They said at the same time, a huge reclamation of land from the sea is ongoing to build a new city called Eko Atlantic City. But a brochure distributed by the project managers claim that "Eko Atlantic is already helping to reverse the environmental damage at Victoria Island caused by a century of coastal erosion. The imposing new sea wall will shield the city of Lagos, as well as Eko Atlantic city. The project has converted an impending disaster into a valuable asset for the future."
They said many Lagosians are doubtful that these promises would be realized, referring to the unexpected erosion caused by stone walls built by the British in the early twentieth century to allow smooth passage to the harbour. "Residents from Victoria Island, Lekki and the new residential developments along the Lekki- Epe expressway are worried about the safety of their houses, whilst some local communities have noticed an increase in ocean surges and coastal erosion since the sand-filling and dredging activities for Eko Atlantic City began and have lost property and been displaced as a result."
According to Oladipo, who focused on 'The Imperative for Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment for the Development of Lagos Coastline (including the Eko Atlantic Project),' said global climate change predictions suggested, among others, that sea level rise and an increase in the intensity and frequency of storm events may have significant impact on coastlines across the globe. "Lagos with its extensive coastline may be particularly vulnerable to these predicted changes."
He said "a single sea level rise event can trigger biophysical, social, institutional and economic changes, all of which have the potential to impose risk over extended timeframes. Unfortunately, the authorities granting planning permission are not always cognizant of sea-level rise risks. Assessments that report only the immediate biophysical impacts, tend to under-report sea-level rise risks."
Oladipo said the risk assessment should model the form all those changes would take; provide an understanding of the associated impacts on existing coastal systems, infrastructure and property. It should provide guidance and implications to future coastal developments-to be included in the Lagos Coastal Development Guidelines; identify high risk areas that are prone to high impact.
According to him, the assessment should "improve our understanding of the climate change impacts that will facilitate the development of long-term mitigation and adaptation measures." He listed some of the best mitigation and adaptation measures.
Oladipo then recommended changes that need to be done. On communication, he said "we need joined-up, coordinated thinking and action by all the interested and affected parties. Much better community involvement and engagement in the process."
He advised that there is need for a long-term strategic vision to be embedded into the current planning, especially land use allocations. He said infrastructure diversification was imperative, including building floating/amphibious homes that can rise and fall with changes in sea level. Also, that integrated design solutions should be used.
Kuramo not illegal?
Contrary to perceptions of unofficial talk in town, Kuramo Beach is a purpose-built tourism resort of sorts. The Kuramo Beach project was conceived in 1999 when the nation was preparing to host the Junior World Cup. The idea then was that since most of the visitors would be accommodated in Eko Hotel, Federal Palace and in other boutique hotels along that stretch of the Victoria Island axis, they would want to visit the beach. Government then thought it would be a fine complement to have a sea-side relaxation spot for them to unwind.
So, the government called in its architects and a layout plan was designed. Thereafter, prospective investors were invited to bid and pay for spaces. "The Lagos State Government administered by Brigadier General Buba Marwa provided the land and invited private operators to come and partner. It did this through the ministry of tourism and Mr. Tunde Twins was the architect who designed the wooden prototype specified by government and private participants were invited and we bought spaces," said the Secretary of the Kuramo Beach Tourism Investors Association, Mr. Michael Onuwaje.
They paid about N30,000 for spaces and since then there was peace and government has been running the project, Onuwaje said, adding that the government had been on ground at the beach up till when it came to demolish their structures. "Since then business owners paid about N40,000 as ground rent to the state government annually. At first we paid to the Ministry of Tourism and lately to the Ministry of Waterfront and Infrastructural Development. This has been the situation before the Ocean surge last Saturday."
Onuwaje said it was unfortunate that the surge devastated their lives and livelihood. "What happened thereafter is also unfortunate. We are expecting that the government should at least give us some reprieve as partners of the government. We need to be carried along in what they planning to do right now. The need to evacuate was necessary but it is the demolition that is taking us aback. We are hoping to hear from government what they have for us."
Before the surge
Nobody on Kuramo Beach ever suspected the surge would come, not even the government that designed and introduced a new business format complete with new house-rules. "In June this year, the local government shut down the beach for 10 days to reorganise it. They removed a lot of illegal structures that distorted the masterplan of the beach. The local government came to correct it and repositioned the beach. The local government then established an office on Kuramo beach to monitor activities there and to check criminality. The Ocean surge has displaced that entire plan."
Beyond wreaking small businesses, the demolition, he said would breakup many families and disenfranchise many people, who used to vote in that axis during elections. "About six polling stations are registered in this community. People on Kuramo Beach registered to vote in these stations and, Victoria Island has mainly offices and hotels and very few residential buildings."