19 December 2012

Gambia: Environment Minister Says Coastal Gambia At Risk

Photo: John Odongo/IRIN
Soroti residents help an old woman to cross the flooded Awoja bridge in Teso sub region.

The risk of climate change related damage to human and economic development in The Gambia's coastal areas is on the rise, with the compound effects of sea level rise and changes in the river discharge, erosion of coastal embankments and changes to natural sediments dynamics posing a serious threat to the natural resource base and livelihood opportunities of coastal communities including tourism.

This was disclosed by the minister of Forestry and the Environment, Fatou Ndeye Gaye, at the Paradise Suites Hotel on Tuesday, where she presided over the opening of a two-day validation workshop on the UNDP/GEF/ LCDF project preparatory grant, on the theme, 'Enhancing resources of Coastal areas and countries to climate change'. The validation is organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Policy and institutional development for climate risk management in coastal zones, physical investment in coastal protection against climate change risks and strengthening livelihoods of coastal communities at risk from climate change are the three main components of the project, and it seeks to employ a feedback loop between the three components and enable successful community-based adaptation approaches in coastal areas to be analysed and replicated in other vulnerable regions, within and outside The Gambia.

Minister Gaye said The Gambia is one of the most vulnerable countries in Africa in relation to climate change and faces a range of problems associated with flooding from sea level rise, drainage congestion and torrential rains. "Change in climatic patterns are also expected to further constrain productivity of some crops as well as forest regeneration," she added.

She further told the gathering that the African continent has been identified by the IPCC in 2007 as one of the most vulnerable continents with regards to climatic effects. These effects, she said, as predicted will be amplified by the lack of adequate finances and technical knowledge to actively adapt to the changing environment.

While expressing Gambia government's strong awareness of the threats posed by climate change, the Environment minister stated government's unreserved commitment to addressing the challenge, saying the commitment has been demonstrated by mainstreaming climate change into government's development blueprints, with numerous interventions undertaken to address the effects of climate change.

Izumi Morota-Alakija, the acting UNDP resident representative in The Gambia, observed that the project is meant to reduce Gambia's vulnerability to climate change, including sea level rise and its associated impacts by improving coastal defences and changing adaptive capacities of coastal communities. Climate change, she went on, poses a serious challenge to key national economic sectors such as agriculture, energy as well as forestry, tourism and infrastructural development.

According to her, there is overwhelming evidence from studies in The Gambia and internationally that climate change will have significant consequences on coastal regions, especially low-lying coasts with their mangrove ecosystems. "The Gambia is therefore vulnerable and could be at risk," she said.

Pa Momodou Sarr, the executive director NEA, who is also the Global Environment Facility (GEF) focal point in The Gambia, said the coastal zone in The Gambia is one of the most economically active in the areas of tourism, fisheries, employment and trade. He also said that climate change contributes to accelerated sea level rise by the thermal expansion of near-surface waters of the ocean and the increased melting of glaciers and ice sheets.

He explained that flooding of coasts and estuaries can alter the physical structures of habitats and decrease habitat availability and suitability, which will lead to the compromising of the biota on which organisms high up in the food chain depend."Increased coastal erosion can reduce or remove beach areas and interfere with near-shore currents and their physical transport patterns of sediments," he added.

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