Senegalese government struggles to fill climate refugee camp in Saint-Louis

When Madické Sène was a child, the sands of the Langue de Barbarie stretched some 100 meters. Now the rising sea has swallowed much of the beach, including his 10-bed home.

It is a sign of how the climate crisis is already ravaging West Africa’s coastal cities. By 2050, some 113 million people across the continent could be forced to relocate because of the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels.

Why we wrote this

Politicians are waking up to the reality of climate migration. Senegal could provide a blueprint for how coastal African cities could cope with the complex task of relocating citizens from places that have long provided economic opportunity and emotional ties.

In Senegal, some 3,200 residents of the peninsula that is part of the historic city of Saint-Louis have been displaced. Tens of thousands more will be affected by 2080, with one study predicting that 80% of the greater city area could be flooded.

Some 12 kilometers inland, the government has built a displaced persons camp as a temporary replacement for a new village. But inhabitants of the peninsula, like Mr. Sène, have no desire to leave.

“I was born here and I will grow old here,” he says. “The ocean is what we know.”

Of the only 1,500 residents of Diougop, the temporary camp, Ndeye Coumba Gueye has taken a state-funded cosmetology course — one of many sweeteners aimed at convincing people to move there.

“My hope is that when the [permanent] houses will be built, there will be people… coming to live here,” she says.

While Madické Sène grills some crabs he caught earlier in the morning, he stares out at the calm morning waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

“When I was a kid, it stretched all the way out there,” he says of the beach, pointing past a handful of brightly colored fishing boats some 300 feet in the water. Now, as he sits on a mat laid out on a newly constructed sea wall, the waves roll just 25 yards away at high tide.

His mat, the grill, the crabs, the fabric he has stretched over his head to provide shade from the sun – all this is on top of his ten-room house, engulfed by a particularly bloated sea in 2018. Behind him lie the remnants: the last standing bedroom, a bathroom and a wooden animal pen for his sheep.

Why we wrote this

Politicians are waking up to the reality of climate migration. Senegal could provide a blueprint for how coastal African cities could cope with the complex task of relocating citizens from places that have long provided economic opportunity and emotional ties.

Mr. Sène’s attitude is emulated by his neighbours. They are the scars left over from rising sea levels on this coastal peninsula known as the Langue de Barbarie, part of the city of Saint-Louis, some 220 kilometers from Senegal’s capital, Dakar.

About 3,200 residents of the peninsula’s busy fishing district, Guet Ndar, have been displaced by the increasingly unstable seas, which have at times flooded the entire peninsula to the point where the ocean on the other side flows into the Senegal River. In response, the government established temporary camps for displaced persons 12 kilometers inland in 2019. It plans to eventually replace them with a newly built village.

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