More than ever before in the history of Liberia, inhabited coastal communities are being and are on the verge of being submerged beneath the vast Atlantic Ocean. From Cape Mount to Cape Palmas, coastal erosion continues to wipe out the shorelines. Experts have argued that consistent and persistent occurrence of coastal erosion along Liberia’s coastline could either result from unregulated sand mining or global climate change leading to rising sea levels compounded with abrasive currents, high energy wave patterns and storm surges, all combined to create serious levels of coastal erosion.
While experts argued distinguishing fact from fiction, hundreds of people are becoming displaced on a regular basis, most of whom are already poverty-stricken. Strong storms in most parts of the country are destroying thousands of homes occupied by people who continue to taste the bitter pill of poverty and human suffering. It is not only the people that are affected, but their homes and other basic infrastructural facilities that provide the much needed social services that are getting swallowed, leaving thousands homeless without food, water, clothing – let alone access to affordable healthcare and education.
Case in point: the famous D. Tweh High School, the only public high school in one of Liberia’s largest shantytowns, is on the verge of being swept away.
Contemplate on the picturesque Atlantic Street in the Port City of Buchanan that is being washed away, and efforts are underway to somewhat cease the debris from falling, for a very short span of time, with huge rocks stockpiled for coastal defense. Consider the populous West Point community in the heart of our nation’s capital that is being squeezed with countless number of homes, submerged underwater or at the point of being wiped out in the not too distant future. Every now and then, coastal erosion is taking away the homes and hard-earned meager resources of our compatriots, while we sit and shift blames or badmouth authorities, or give illusive hopes or share pseudo relief items to gain political favor.
However, the growing wave of coastal erosion in recent times call for decisive, appropriate and long-term action from broader and bigger perspectives involving holistic and realistic approaches that take into consideration practical solutions from experts, investment in long-standing research and grassroots actions on the part of every citizen. Notwithstanding, these are not just the solutions to the worsening coastal erosion problem along Liberia’s shorelines, but the changes in the attitude, behavior and mindset of the people who are directly affected by this devastating phenomenon. Most importantly, there must be the will of the people, institutions, international and political bodies to find amicable remedies to the worrisome, encroaching sea.
Every so often, scores of coastal dwellers choose to engage in illegal beach sand mining under the canopy of earning their daily meal. There is always a demand for beach sand as people engage in the construction of their homes and businesses, without consideration environmental issues and the merciless coastal erosion. The huge demand for beach sand, even with the prohibition, leads people to go the extra mile to collect sand. Due to the limited space for building houses in most clustered coastal communities, some inhabitants choose to build their homes within the proximity of the ocean or near the very place coastal sand mining is being carried out.
The exponential increase of coastal sand mining and construction of misshaped structures severely damages all or nearly all the native vegetations that usually serve as natural barriers to the destructive and seemingly unstoppable coastal erosion. Sadly, most coastal dwellers are either too busy worrying over food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and school fees, or have little or no knowledge about the effects of their accumulated activities on the coastal erosion problem they are encountering. Coastal residents need to accept the fact that their very actions and activities along the shoreline are causing the increased coastal erosion. They ought to dust themselves off, wakeup, shakeup and standup to begin the work of minimizing or stopping the disastrous coastal erosion with their own creativity, responsibility and ingenuity. Coastal dwellers can put an end to sand mining at this very moment, because every problem can be solved through the willingness of the people. This is a truism, that most shorelines lacking human habitation do not experience coastal erosion as compared to inhabited areas, since they are firmly secured with natural barriers.
Therefore, coastal inhabitants must begin to plant native vegetations, create buffer zone and cease the cutting of mangrove swamps. They should and must call their government to begin taking practical steps in addressing coastal erosion as well as solicit the help of international partners and other stakeholders. They should and must tell powerful and rich nations to stop the massive pollution to stop the earth from getting warmer, leading to rising sea levels. They should and must uphold and adhere to the laws and other international regulations set forth in order to protect and preserve the environment for themselves and generations yet unborn. All of this is possible if people decide to work together with one common purpose for the good of all.
Besides, regulatory institutions charged with the responsibility to safeguard Liberia’s coastline ought to galvanize all of the necessary resources and logistics in order to effectively and efficiently monitor and effectuate the rules and regulations governing beach sand mining and construction of housing units along the shoreline. These regulatory bodies should create massive publicity and outreach initiatives including organizing community based town hall styled meetings coupled with focused group discussions to explain laws as well as penalties associated with their violations. Projects implemented through these statutory institutions established under the law of Liberia should involve local coastal inhabitants in order to provide jobs and avert beach sand mining.
Additionally, there should be a regulatory framework that takes into consideration early warning, evacuation plan and disaster management support for coastal residents. It is also advisable for regulatory bodies to institute working groups on coastal erosion so as to better coordinate and avoid unnecessary government bureaucracy.
On the other hand, the international community must play a pivotal role in protecting coastal areas against erosion and climate change. Rich and powerful nations should muster the courage to implement the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Some countries with relatively plenty resources have got to limit investment in fossil fuel, coal and nuclear power as cheaper sources of energy and divert to clean and renewable energy. No matter how much financial aid is being provided to combat the glaring and galloping effects of climate change, developed countries should not be blindfolded as the sea swallows coastal communities and erodes shorelines. The task is upon the world’s most influential nations to prevent the glaciers from melting at a faster pace than estimated, with stronger commitment, not just through lengthy speeches and countless conferences, but rather practical actions to reduce carbon emissions and sharing the much needed technological know-how to minimize the threat of coastal erosion dislodging people and possibly adding to the refugee crises the world is currently experiencing.
The world’s major emitters of emission must rethink the future of thousands of communities on the verge of being submerged underwater and millions of people that are going to be displaced without hope for a better future. We the people of this world cannot continue to ruin our planet in pursue of economic power. We are all living under “one sky,” and what sets us apart are vast oceans and imaginary border lines; and all too often, what distinguishes us is the color of our skin. Nevertheless, no matter where one lives or religion confessed or language spoken or perceived social status; know that climate change will affect us all, and it is just a matter of time. Hence, we the people of this world, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, environmental activist or social advocate; ought to do everything in our power in our lifetime to save our planet and put an end to coastal erosion.
All the more so, political will is very paramount in ensuring our leaders take appropriate actions to safeguard eroding shorelines and massive coastal erosion led displacement of people. It is time to make our leaders walk the talk and uphold their promise to combat climate change and stop coastal erosion. In Liberia, our government has signed up to many international treaties, protocols and agreements as well as approved numerous legislations, regulations, policies and laws to guide against climate change; howbeit, most of these brilliant documents are yet to be turned into practical actions.
The Liberian government must begin the work of ensuring the popularization and implementation of all climate change related documents through consulted and coordinated efforts involving every state actor. The time for the blame shifting game is over. Our government must keep its promises to avoid speedily contrived solutions, but instead work towards long-lasting initiatives that will make our coastline safer, healthier and cleaner. Our government must no longer wait until hundreds of homes in West Points vanish or D. Twe disappears or Atlantic Street debris fall beneath the ocean floor or another disastrous coastal erosion to occur before taking actions and calling for help. Our government must incorporate the science of climate change in the national curriculum so as to engage and educate the present generation of young Liberians to learn about the effects of the climate crisis and develop possible solutions to solve one of the greatest crises in human history. When young people are involved in putting an end to eroding shorelines and the fight against climate change with their energy, enthusiasm and innovation, there are endless possibilities.
Already many voluntary grassroots organizations like Youth Exploring Solutions are leading the quest for a greener future to save our earth. Through our sweat, blood and tears, more dedicated, determined and committed environmental enthusiasts have joined the implementation of a very ambitious plan to build a sustainable Liberia and create an ecosystem of innovation in the areas of Energy, Water, Food, Waste and Ecology, utilizing a youth-led sustainability movement. Furthermore, we are informing, involving and inspiring young people to take practical grassroots actions to safeguard our one earth, whether it is community town hall engagement for coastal dwellers or nurturing emerging environmentalists or anti-plastic bag campaigns or coastal cleanup initiatives or planting trees or environmental advocacy and outreach activities, we playing our part with tremendous support from the U.S. Embassy Monrovia to help make our planet greener, our water safer and our air cleaner. However, our incredible grassroots efforts are just a drop in the ocean, because no one organization or country on the face of this earth can put an end to the climate crisis.
Now, it is the time to get everyone involved in solving the climate crisis. We need not retreat from a battle affecting us all, and will definitely have substantial impact on our children, grand children and generations unborn. We have got to tackle climate change head-on through collective efforts to make our planet habitable, our water drinkable, our air breathable, our food consumable, our energy clean and our environment livable.
It is up to everyone to set their sights higher from their comfort zones and imaginary border lines and begin the work of solving the climate crisis through our own creativity and collective actions. It is on us to begin taking every action possible to fight for ourselves, our country and our one world with the artisanal that defeats the climate crisis in our lifetime. It is on us to rethink the way we utilize energy that is threatening our very existence. Together, we can tackle the climate crisis and save our earth for ourselves and the next generation and put an end to the eroding Liberian shoreline.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent YES.