Reading the daily news of tidal surges inundating homes of coastal inhabitants situated between the Keta Sea and the Lagoon brings me sadness. The huge surge, which swept through hundreds of coastal homes, is said to have displaced nearly 4,000 coastal inhabitants. Schools and places of worship were not spared the wrath of the tidal surge.
Amid the devastation, NADMO (a state-sponsored department) was said to have supplied relief items to the defenseless victims, in addition to other humanitarian aid from well-meaning Ghanaians.
While these gestures are commendable for calming tempers and inspiring optimism, the usual Ghanaian risk response culture is not enough. The coastal flooding along the coastline of Keta-Aflao has been an ongoing issue for more than a decade.
The Government of Ghana commenced the Keta Sea Defense Project as an adaptation measure to curb the coastal risk in an attempt to save the vulnerable coastal population from the coastal disaster. I anticipate the government to refocus on the project.
The dramatic event seen in the precinct of our parliament building in the wake of the devastating news of tidal surges smashing the coast of Keta is shocking. The squabbles between some members of the majority and minority caucuses highlight the flaws in our democratic system.
According to local media reports, the regrettable incident was caused by arguments concerning the causes of the tidal surge. But why did it happen in the first place? Our elected officials are tasked with enacting legislation and safeguarding the interests of their constituents. In any case, what does it cost to invite experts to the august house to ascertain the facts surrounding attributions?
According to reports, one side of the political divide blamed the coastal risk on sand winning along the coast, citing disputed photographs as evidence. The other is said to have linked the same tidal surge to rising sea-levels, perhaps influenced by climate change.
As a master’s student of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, attribution arguments should obviously pique my attention. But before I provide my thoughts on what could have been done instead of the tumultuous political battle over causality, I would want to go over some of the factors that could impact coastal flooding, based on the pieces of literature I have read.
According to the latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global mean sea level rose by less than 1 meter over decades. Initially, it stated in its Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (2019) that the Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) had risen by 17 cm during the 1900s. These data have unmistakably been linked to human-caused climate change. As a result, there’s no denying that climate change is influencing sea-level rise.
But it is worth noting that, while observed trends of global sea-level rise and even projected figures are important, they are not sufficient to explain sea-level rise on a local scale. Relying on IPCC information, a study found that the lower the scale, the more tidal surge are likely to be influenced by variables other than climate change.
Local sea-level rise may be greater or lesser than the global average, depending on local coastal processes such as natural or human-caused land subsidence. So, those involved in the unfortunate altercation in the precinct of parliament house, from both caucuses may be right in attributing the tidal surge to local activities and sea-level rise [caused by anthropogenic climate change], except that I cannot independently verify if claims to sand winning are true or false.
If our MPs are concerned about solving the perennial coastal flooding, they should engage in bipartisan cooperation to find solutions rather than the near-brawl over the causes of the tidal surge seen on camera. The struggle between the two parties will only weaken concerted efforts to arrive at an effective solution to the old age problem along the Keta-Aflao coastline. There is just one positive to be gained from the debate regarding the tidal waves causes: it emphasizes the importance of understanding the dynamics of the issue.
The way forward:
MPs, in my opinion, should seek professional opinions on the specific causes of coastal flooding in the affected area. To put it another way, scientific knowledge should be mobilized to better understand the context-specific dynamics of the problem and, as a result, build new coastal models and effective adaptation strategies to solve the issue.
This should be done with zeal and speed. To address the intricacies connected with the problem, policy-making procedures should be participatory or stakeholders such as local governments, civil society organizations, land-use planners, and local communities, among others must be engaged.
While the Keta Sea Defense Project is a great initiative, studies have shown that no standalone adaptation project (either hard or soft measure) can address the complexity of issues associated with coastal adaptation. Hybrid adaptation techniques, developed following risk assessments and adaptation studies, will be more effective and provide a long-term solution to the problem of coastal flooding. However, such mixed approaches may also signal governance challenges (e.g., socio and political challenges associated with resettlement).
I surmise that a hybrid coastal framework, bordering a combination of adaptation strategies such as managed retreat, ecosystem-based adaptation, and accommodation strategies will bring a long-term solution to the problem. Based on different future scenarios, global sea-level rise and various extreme events are expected to increase at different levels of intensity and frequency.
Coastal areas, being one of the most vulnerable regions, are projected to be severely affected. The Government of Ghana, having been awakened by the current unprecedented tidal wave, must look into the future and take anticipatory measures rather than the all too often reactive responses which are costly.
The author is Adjaison Desmond, MPhil Climate Change and Sustainable Development (student) at the Center for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies
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