"The sea is mad at us! "
Coastal erosion in Saint Louis, Senegal
When I go in March 2019 on the shoreline of the Barbary language located at the seaside in Saint Louis in northern Senegal, I see that all the fishermen's houses built at sea level were destroyed, gnawed by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Some families continue to live in their ruined homes and cling to the remaining piece of land facing the sea. Others have been relocated to the Raliala camp outside the city. Here, all the families I met suffered their fate with courage and resignation. It was during the storm of December 2017 that the sea ravaged for several days their homes. Two years later, they still do not understand why.
Sea level rise due to global warming for some, human error or simple erosion of the sea for others.
Around this phenomenon, I wanted to confront two looks. First of all that of a population of fishermen who undergo the devastating action of the sea without understanding what happens to him.
Then the eyes of those who claim to understand this phenomenon to find solutions to the erosion of this coastline of West Africa
The misunderstanding of the fishermen
"We do not understand why the waves destroyed the house of our grandfather," said Magarette, a twenty-five-year-old Senegalese woman. From the top of her terrace, facing the sea, she wants to show me the part of the house of her grandfather disappeared in late 2017 which housed her four cousins, now relocated in a camp. The whole family of Magarette remains shocked by the extent of the damage. But life seems to have gradually taken over in this family of fishermen who is organizing as best as possible while waiting for the next storm. "The sea is mad at us," Magarette's mom tells me. And to add "the sea may need sacrifices". She explains to me that the fishermen of the region have a habit of pouring into the ocean an offering of curdled milk, sugar, couscous and water to attract the favor of the gods. Like the family of Magarette, 30,000 people in this fishing district called Guet Ndar, on the Langue de Barbarie, dread the sea that every day licks their homes. At forty-seven, Moudoucen is one of the fishermen whose house was totally destroyed during high tides. The mayor of Saint Louis has taken the initiative of relocating him and his family to a makeshift camp outside the town called Raliala, which literally means "You wait for the god". A prophetic name that indicates hope, and the expectation of a divine solution that anyway can not come from men. Raliala is one of the first climate refugee settlements that houses more than two hundred families in tents. While waiting for the situation to improve, Moudoucen and his wife are keeping their children. Between the tents a very small makeshift mosque was made in a hurry. Every day, he and his wife go on a quest for fish and money, which fishermen give to those who have lost everything by the sea.
The understanding of public authorities and scientists
Located on a narrow island 300 m wide and 2km long, Saint Louis is surrounded by the Senegal River and slightly protected from the ocean by a natural barrier of sand called Langue de Barbarie. In 2003, a flood floods the entire city of Saint Louis. The public authorities then realize that rising sea levels prevent the flow of the Senegal River and favor the appearance of floods. Floods that according to the Ministry of the Environment could impact 80% of the island where Saint Louis is located, and in the long term would threaten the entire city as Venice or New Orleans. In a hurry, the opening of a breach of 4 meters on the seafront upstream of Saint Louis is carried out to promote the flow of the river to the ocean. Catastrophic decision. In an effort to protect the city, dubbed the "African Venice", from the floods of the river, the 4-meter gap widened by 250 m in a few days, threatening the city to be engulfed by the ocean. The case of Saint Louis is the perfect example of the human initiative, which, by trying to protect itself against rising waters, has created more problems than it has solved. Similarly, the work done by the French company Eiffage consolidation of the coast ends in 2010 to the construction of dikes arranged before Guet Ndar which eventually subside. New failure. CNRS scientists like Stéphane Costa and Christophe Delacourt remind us that in terms of coastal protection, we must give ourselves time to protect it. To gain time to understand the origin of climate disasters.
The wisdom of the ancients in front of a disordered nature
The way of life of Saint Louis fishermen is millenary. Everything in Saint Louis bears witness to a past worn by generations of sailors, a legacy that earned him the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the past, fishermen hauled their boats after a day of fishing from the ocean to their home. Today, the ocean is at the door of their home and the boats pass without transition from the houses to the sea. Far from wanting to fight against this phenomenon of the erosion of the littoral by the sea, the fishermen adapt of our days to climate change. They are simply trying to slow down the effect of rising waters by adding sandbags in front of their homes to try to organize themselves for the time needed to understand the evolution of things. They limit the risks of submersion and coastal erosion. Others take the lead by moving to other lands inland. But remember that the phenomenon is old, even if the rising waters accelerate it today. The sea would have gained four kilometers on the lands of West Africa since the eighteenth century. Perhaps the fishermen of Saint Louis have simply understood that with the climatic effects, and in front of the rise of the waters, one can not protect their littoral in a definitive way.
Christian Barbé April 2019