By Layin B. Toure, a retired civil servant
Let us not allow ourselves to fall in any climate change trap. Warning before wounded. It is noticeable that most indigenous Banjul settlers moved out of the island in the early 1970s and ’80s to the Kombos. Families must have had reasons for their relocation. However, the focus of this article is not on the reasons why, or causes of the families’ moves out of Banjul, or to investigate whether families rented or sold their compounds in Banjul when they moved out. Rather, the article focuses on the adverse repercussions of climate change on our Capital Island, Banjul.
The decision to vacate Banjul Island is a matter of choice for each family. Each family can decide to leave or stay, but as the saying goes, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Furthermore, the wise one will not wait for a repeat of the horror Banjulians faced in the flood of 1948 – 73 years ago. Procrastination, they say, is the thief of time so I believe we must act now.
Inundation can be caused by many factors, including climate change which in turn causes heavy, unpredictable rainfall patterns, rising sea level, strong winds, storms capable of sweeping coastal beaches, and strong ocean currents manifesting huge waves reaching heights of 4 – 5 meters. In addition, scanty vegetation, and sand mining can cause or increase the risk of inundation.
The main pillar which holds Banjul Island up above the sea level is the sand it rests on. For this reason, sand mining in and around Banjul presents a grave danger to the island. Sand mining excavates and undermines the foundation on which the Island Capital sits on. The more excavation (be it for anything, but for only sand), the more the Island sinks below sea level. Therefore, danger looms ahead. This is no trifling matter, and can lead to serious consequences, namely, the flooding of the entire island of Banjul.
As it is, many parts of the island of Banjul are below or barely above sea level. According to data from Google Earth, Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, is only 3 metres above sea level, as is the Tobacco Road area which is densely populated. Similarly, the administrative heart of the country, the Quadrangle, which houses many government ministries is 3 metres above sea level. Other areas and structures such as King Fahd Mosque and McCarthy Square are 2 metres above sea level, while the area around the pumping machine on Bund Road is only about 1 metre above sea level. The State House and the National Assembly complex are also at risk being, respectively, 3-4 metres and 2 metres above sea level. In view of reports of global sea level rise because of climate change, I find the situation alarming, even though we all seem to be blind to the risk of inundation faced by Banjul Island.
In the mid-sixties (1965 – 66) I was posted to Albreda/Juffureh as a young civil servant, I was very fond of making trips to James Island (now called Kunta Kinteh Island) by canoe with fishermen. On landing on the beaches of this historic Island, one could walk 20 meters before getting to those old, dilapidated structures. One could see thick long metal chains sealed on walls of the structures, metal bars, you name it. The vegetation was blooming dark green although some big trees close to the perimeters of the Island lost their roots due to erosion either by wind or water. A family of 10 could live there comfortably. The land space could have been roughly up to 80-metre square at the time.
When I revisited the Island in 2014 i.e., after 48 years, I was utterly stupefied by how I found the conditions of the Island. I stood idly for several minutes in painful silence. Watching what I saw got me entirely lost in my thoughts about what I used to see on the Island. The banks were eroded, and beaches shrunk and robbed by climate change. I had to ask myself: is this the island I used to visit in the mid-sixties?
Could Banjul Island be an exception to the ravages that climate change can cause, I asked myself? No! I thought to myself. Idly on my feet, I was again engulfed in silence and misery on the ghost Island not even inhabited by animals. How about our dear capital Island potentially prone to be faced with such natural calamities?
The fate of Kunta Kinteh Island is similar to that of Gorée Island in Senegal. Gorée Island was used during the Atlantic Slave Trade in the same way as Kunta Kinteh Island. Reference is made to these islands not for the purpose for which they were used by the colonial masters but rather, the land, ecological, and resources depletion they faced over time. Climate change inflicted very serious wounds on each of the Islands. Over time, Gorée Island, like Kunta Kinteh Island suffered enormous erosion because of increasing sea level rise brought about by climate change.
Although Banjul faces a significant risk of being inundated, some preventive measures can be taken to avert disaster. First, flood gates can be built on the perimeters of the island, and more trees planted, if space is available. It will also be of immense help to stop or at least reduce the deforestation of mangroves on the island. Other actions that can be taken include building dykes on the perimeters of the island, and conducting ecological research as well as ensuring the dissemination of the findings of such research.
The effort to protect the Banjul Island is everybody’s business. For this reason, there are many agencies and organizations that have important roles to play. Among these are Banjul City Council (BCC), the National Environment Agency, the National Disaster Management Agency, as well as our development partners such as the UNDP and Non-Governmental organizations. All their efforts must, of course, be led and coordinated by the central government.
Finally, I appeal to all Gambians and non-Gambians to take up the challenge head-on in any form. I am no more than a farmer, but I will not hesitate to exert all my limited influence for the protection of our capital.
May Allah protect us all – Ameen.