Sierra Leone: time running out for coastal slums

The three big climate change challenges facing the International Community are commonly recognised as:

  • How to stop and reverse further global warming (mitigation).
  • How to live with a certain amount of global warming (adaptation).
  • How to design a new model for human progress and development that is climate proof and climate friendly and gives everybody a fair share of the natural resources on which we all depend.

Whilst governments and corporations are wrangling over different ways to confront these challenges, one thing is abundantly clear: it is the richer countries who will have greatest responsibility for mitigation, and the poorer countries – often most under threat due to sea level rise – who will be under greatest pressure to adapt.

In an interesting article for Panos, Siera Leonean journalist Harold Williams brings to light the limited ‘adaptive capacity’ of slum dwellers in Freetown, as they try to survive rising sea levels in the Kroo Bay estuary. His article points out both the immediacy of the situation:

The high tide in this estuary is 150 cm higher than it was in 1996, according to meteorological officers. This is exacerbated during the rainy seasons when the upland streams flow into the estuary. There are 32 similar slum settlements along the coastline of Freetown, home to around 150,000 of the capital’s one million residents. Wealthier people are not immune either. It is already too late for the millionaire’s mansions at Lakka on one of Sierra Leone’s most valuable tourist beaches at. They are being washed away.

and also the tiny budgets that the Sierra Leonian governments can implement to help displaced residents:

‘The majority of the least developed countries have now drawn up a National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA). These plans are a key strategy of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and offer an opportunity for each country to receive US$350,000 in funds to embark on their most urgent adaptation priorities. It is not much, but it is a significant help when there are no resources in the national budget for adaptation activities’……

‘…..Sierra Leone’s adaptation projects are low on the EU’s priority list. Vanuatu, the Maldives, Cambodia and Tanzania will be the pilot recipients from the Global Climate Change Alliance’s 2009 funding round, and 11 other least developed countries are on its 2010 list. So perhaps Sierra Leone could learn a lesson in pro-active jostling from other vulnerable countries.’

The question this begs is how long will it be before effective and efficient adaptation funds will be available to countries like Sierra Leone, whose contribution towards climate change has been negligible, but whose citizens stand to lose a great deal if action isn’t taken soon. ‘Adaptive capacity’ obviously goes beyond the purely financial, but $350 000 is a laughable amount to offer as a solution to a city’s current and future sea level change problems.

Recently UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer outlined the progress that was being made running up to Copenhagen, suggesting that greater amounts will be availabe to Africa’s poorest countries. We can only hope that this comes sooner rather than later.

You can read Harold Williams’ full article here

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