Eko Atlantic City: Daring the waves

Eko Atlantic City: Daring the waves

The predictions are grim about the fate of the Lagos coastline, especially Victoria Island and the Lekki area due to rising sea levels globally. While many are predicting that a significant portion of the city may be submerged soon, the state government and some private investors are forging ahead with the development of Eko Atlantic city, a futuristic project right on the Bar Beach. AKINPELU DADA reports. For the past few months, the Victoria Island waterfront at Bar Beach has been a beehive of activity. Local and expatriate engineers and other workers, heavy equipment and security personnel have taken up a significant portion of the beach in what apparently is the initial stages of a multibillion-dollar project being undertaken by the Lagos State Government in partnership with foreign investors.

Insiders say that Eko Atlantic city will replicate some of the awe-inspiring beachfront estates found in several parts of the world where the rich have their playgrounds such as Dubai, south of Spain, the French Riviera, and Malibu, United States.

But, what worries Opeyemi Olukoga, a 54-year-old civil servant who has lived on Victoria Island for 27 years, is whether the eventual residents will not have to battle year after year with ocean surge that had previously threatened to wash away many properties on Ahmadu Bello Way and adjoining streets in Victoria Island.

An exasperated Olukoga told our correspondent on a visit to the site last week that, “I hope those who are promoting this project and those who are going to live in the city know what they are doing from the history of ocean surges that had occurred at the beach area and the untold damage they had done to properties, and especially so in this era of climate change and the associated rise in sea levels globally”.

Olukoga’s apprehension is not unfounded. In the last 12 years, the Bar Beach has been overflowing its banks due to high tidal waves, threatening billions of naira worth of investments in real estate and other businesses in Victoria Island, especially on Ahmadu Bello Way and adjoining streets.

The situation was so bad at the time that many people and corporate organisations abandoned their premises and fled to drier ground because of the destructive power of the raging sea.

Land reclamation in coastal areas is not new. The Japanese, Americans and Europeans have perfected the technology over the years but globally, the issue of rising sea level has become a real source of concern for scientists, governments and businesses. Studies have shown an increase in water volume in the seas over the years, with experts attributing the development to global warming, which simply means an increase in the atmospheric temperature.

Globally, the issue of rising sea level is a source of concern. Experts say that global warming from the greenhouse effect could raise sea level by about one metre in the next century and several metres in the next few hundred years by expanding ocean water, melting mountain glaciers, and causing ice sheets to melt or slide into the oceans. Such a rise would inundate deltas, coral atoll islands, and other coastal lowlands, erode beaches, exacerbate coastal flooding, and threaten water quality in estuaries and aquifers.
Scientists calculated that if the world’s mountain glaciers and icecaps melt, sea levels will rise by an estimated 0.5m. In various studies, scientists and climatologists suggest that the expansion of warming oceans was the main factor contributing to sea level rise in the 20th century, and currently accounts for more than half of the observed rise in sea levels.
The vast reserves of ice sheets contain billions of tons of frozen water. They predict that if the largest of them (the East Antarctic Ice Sheet) melts, the global sea level will rise by an estimated 64m.

Since the beginning of recorded history, sea level has risen so slowly that for most practical purposes, it has been constant. As a result, people and other species have developed coastal areas much more extensively than would have been 10,000 years ago, when sea level was rising more rapidly.

Whether one is discussing coral atolls, river deltas, barrier islands, or ocean beaches, life is in a delicate balance with the level of the sea. The projected global warming, however, could disrupt that balance by raising sea level a metre in the next century and perhaps several metres in the next 200 years.

Scientists say ocean levels have always fluctuated with changes in global temperatures. During the ice age when the earth was 5C colder than today, much of the ocean’s water was frozen in glaciers and sea level was often more than 100 metres below its current level.

Conversely, during the last interglacial period (120,000 years ago) when the average temperature was 1-2C warmer than today, sea level was about six metres higher than today.

In a report, James G Titus notes, “In the last three decades, a scientific consensus has emerged that humanity is gradually setting in motion a global warming by a mechanism commonly known as the ‘greenhouse effect’. If current trends continue, our planet is likely to warm 3-5C in the next century – as much as it has warmed since the last ice age. Such a warming would raise sea level a metre or more, and threaten water supplies, forests, and agriculture in many parts of the world.”

The most recent study from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that temperature increases would deliver an increase in sea levels of between 18cm and 59cm by 2100.

But the scientists behind the latest study said that sea level rises were already on track to hit the top end of this projection and if, as expected, rates of sea-level rise increase as temperatures climb, we could see sea levels rise by more than one metre by 2100.

Global temperatures, according to some experts, have already risen by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius with a further rise by two to three degrees in the second half of the century predicted unless deep cuts in emissions are put in place before 2015.

The consequent melting of the Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Shield, they note, could lead to one such tipping point scenario, possibly a sea level rise of up to 0.5 metres by 2050.
According to a Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research, Lagos, report the United Nations Environment Programme/International Council for Science and World Meteorological Organisation agree on the likelihood of increased temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius to 4.5 degrees Celsius and sea level rise of 20-140 centimetres before the end of the 21st century.

However, according to the March 1990 figures from the IPCC Working Group I, global mean temperatures will have risen 1.8 degrees Celsius and 3.5 degrees Celsius (best estimates) by 2020 and 2070 respectively.

A rise in temperatures around the world due to carbon emissions since the industrial revolution means many icecaps and glaciers are steadily melting.

Rising temperatures have also caused ocean waters to expand – the main cause of sea level rise in the 20th century.

The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected a likely sea level rise of 28-43cm this century, but it acknowledged that this was probably an underestimate, as not enough was known about how ice behaves.

“The fact that sea levels are rising is a major reason for concern and it’s a combination of the global average rise together with the natural variability leading to larger regional rises,” said Dr John Church from Australia’s government-funded science and research body, the CSIRO.

The weakening of the Gulf Stream coupled with the gravitational effects of being closer to the North Pole mean waters in the northern hemisphere are experiencing the biggest rise.

Scientists have said that Africa’s harbour cities of Cape Town, Lagos and Alexandria are under threat from rising sea levels, which could displace millions and cause massive economic losses.

Speaking at an international climate change conference in Cape Town, South Africa, in January 2009, Mr Geoff Brundrit of the Global Ocean Observing System in Africa, said even a slight increase in sea levels could wreak havoc on some countries.

Lagos is Africa’s most densely populated city with a population of more than 15 million people living between a lake and the sea.

With people crammed into every available space often right up to the shoreline, storms already flood low-lying streets. Rising sea levels could swallow tracts of land, Brundrit said.

“Where will the people go?” said Brundrit, who said the state government was “more concerned with the development of Lagos” than with managing the risks.

The UN-Habitat’s State of the World identified some African cities among the more than 3,000 that could be affected by sea levels rise and surge-induced flooding.

The African coastal cities include: Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire), Accra (Ghana), Alexandria (Egypt), Algiers (Algeria), Cape Town (South Africa), Casablanca (Morocco), Dakar (Senegal), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Djibouti (Djibouti), Durban (South Africa), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Lagos (Nigeria), Libreville (Gabon), Lome (Togo), Luanda (Angola), Maputo (Mozambique), Port Louis (Mauritius), and Tunis (Tunisia).

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change once suggested that one day, the city of Lagos might sink completely in the sea.

According to the IPCC, a trend has emerged since the mid-1970s where storms tend to last longer and be more intense, with a strong correlation to the rise in tropical sea surface temperature.

In sub-Saharan Africa, storm surge zones are concentrated in Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique and Nigeria. These countries alone account for about half (53 per cent) of the total increase in the region’s surge zones resulting from sea level rise and intensified storms.

Studies have shown that Mozambique, Ghana and Togo may lose more than 50 per cent of their coastal gross domestic product, but losses would be highest in Nigeria at $407.61m.
Coastal agriculture, in terms of extent of croplands, will be affected 100 per cent in Nigeria, 66.67 per cent in Ghana, and 50 per cent in Togo and Equatorial Guinea.

A study noted that the most threatened coastline in Nigeria was on Victoria Island, where many of the country’s wealthiest people live. The island is home to about $12bn of the choicest real estate in the country.

Another study by NIOMR revealed that besides the possible loss of property, the land mass of Victoria Island and nearby Lekki (an equally highbrow seaside residential area) could shrink by as much as 230 square miles due to coastal erosion and rising sea level, warning that between 600,000 and 1.5 million people on the island and adjoining areas could be displaced.

Some bridges in the area are already in danger of collapse due to erosion, says Prof Benjamin Akpati, a former director of NIOMR. The study also warns that Victoria Island and Lekki could one day be completely submerged.

According to a climatologist, Prof Temi Ologunorisa, who is the Director, Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Research, Osun State University, Osogbo, the beach area has suffered from the consequences of climate change with water level in the ocean rising above what it used to be. He said that over the last 20 years, Lagos had lost between 300 and 500 metres of beach front to the Atlantic Ocean.

Ologunorisa says, “The prediction is that worldwide, global warming is expected to be accompanied by sea level rise of about 6cm per decade. This means about 20cm rise by 2030, and 65cm by 2100, with significant regional variations. The implication of this for coastal areas like Lagos, especially vulnerable areas such as Victoria Island and Lekki, may not be pleasant at all. The implication of sea level rise for Lekki and Victoria Island in the next 20 to 50 years is a research on its own. If scientific projection is anything to go by, then I am afraid.”

Despite these grim predictions, the Lagos State Government, which is promoting the development of the Eko Atlantic city, says that there is nothing to fear.

The Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Prince Adesegun Oniru, explains that Eko Atlantic city is about reclaiming lost land to the ocean through the erosion problem of the Bar Beach, which was caused by the dredging of the Commodore Channel, created to allow vessels into the Lagos port.

He says, “We have had erosion at the Beach from 1912 up to about three years ago when the permanent solution was put in place, the surge breaker that was put in place and the walkway. The breakers act as energy breaker when the strong surge comes from the ocean.
After that was done, we needed to take the protection of the Bar Beach and the entire Victoria Island to a different level, hence Eko Atlantic city”.

The commissioner further explained, “In the past, we had liabilities along Ahmadu Bello Way, the ocean had practically taken over the road, and both sides of the road were gone. All the state liaison offices on the road were almost under water, everybody was running out. Due to the permanent solution put in place and completed in 2006, we have now turned a liability into an asset. Everybody is reconstructing along Bar Beach today, hotels and banks are springing up along the waterfront.

“Having solved that problem, we also needed to get back the lost land to the ocean, and that lost land is what is now called Eko Atlantic city. The city being created has been tested by an institution, DHI Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. We tested it for one in a hundred-year ocean surge, one in 120 years, one in 150 years and at the end of the day, we tested this city for a one in 1,000 years’ storm, the worst storm you can get, this will be like a tsunami; and that city held up.

“Why did the city hold up? It held up because the protection we are having at the edge of the Eko Atlantic city will be eight to nine metres above the sea level. The worst surge that we have had so far at the Bar Beach was 1.5 metres high coming from the ocean, and when that happened, the protection was already in place and it held up. If we had not put the breaker in place, Victoria Island would be no more today because when we had the 1.5 metre surge coming to hit the island, the lowest point on Victoria Island is by the Falomo Bridge just before you get into Ikoyi, and at that point, the ground level point there is two metres below sea level. You can imagine us having a surge of 1.5 metres and the lowest point is two metres below sea level, if that protection was not there as at the time, the entire area would have gone. That protection is three metres above the ground level; that was what saved VI then.

“You can now imagine that at the completion of this new city, we will have a protection area of eight to nine metres above sea level, this is the guarantee that nothing is going to happen to Eko Atlantic city, the Bar Beach and Victoria Island once the city is completed,” explained Oniru.

On the recent overflow of the Bar Beach despite the protection, Oniru explains, “By end of May to the beginning of June every year, we usually have a tide that comes in that makes the water level rise by about half a metre and storm waves will come. That was what was witnessed at the end of May, but the protection that we put in place actually performed its work. What you saw then was just spill over, which cannot be controlled. Our protection there was three metres above sea level, and when we put the eight- to nine-metre high protection in place, nothing like that will happen there again.”

He says that a Dutch company is proposing to study the entire coastline, spanning from Badagry to Epe, of approximately 186 kilometres of coastline. The company is to study the coastline, look at what the situation was in the past and make recommendations on future actions to be taken to protect the entire Lagos area.

The Punch
By Akinpelu Dada, Punch Newspaper