Cotonou, like many coastal metropolises, faces the imminent threat of rising sea levels. Experts and climate change institutions are closely monitoring and sounding the alarm. The economic capital of Benin is undeniably in jeopardy, as the encroaching waters steadily erode its shores.
Oceanographers and Beninese climate experts are keenly attuned to this issue. To them, there is no room for doubt: a looming danger hangs over Cotonou, the nation’s economic hub. Over the coming decades, sea levels are unequivocally projected to rise, attributed to the inexorable march of climate change.
Zacharie Sohou, an oceanographer from the Institute of Fisheries and Oceanographic Research in Benin, concurs, asserting, “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had foreseen a sea level rise of 50 centimeters by 2050 and two meters by 2100, driven by global warming. However, coastal erosion, on average, poses a four-meter threat. Without sustained efforts, Cotonou may cease to exist within 50 years or be pushed inland.”
Inundations, according to the oceanographer, rank among the primary culprits. Every rainy season brings dread to certain areas, such as Vossa, a densely populated district in Cotonou. The early stages of the September rainy season have already commenced, and anxiety looms.
“By September 15th or 16th, you won’t be able to come here anymore. The river is rapidly encroaching; people are leaving their homes, abandoning their beds and belongings. Last year, when this happened, we suffered significant loss of life,” laments a resident.
“I’m a mechanic; I can’t even work. I’m returning to Gbédjromede [a neighborhood in Cotonou] to find shelter for two months. When the water recedes, I’ll come back to my place. It’s all so disheartening,” echoes another.
Zacharie Sohou contends that the root cause is not far-fetched; it lies squarely with humanity. “Many people have settled in waterways,” explains the oceanographer. “If we manage to clear these waterways, water could flow unimpeded towards the ocean. It is human actions that have brought about these problems. Had we not encroached upon nature, we would have been contending with occasional flooding in Cotonou.”
Authorities have been actively addressing the issue since 2012, implementing a program to combat coastal erosion in Benin. Initially, a dozen groins, structures designed to manipulate sediment movement to mitigate erosion, were erected.