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The Tamed Sea: An Alliance Restored With Coastal Communities

The Tamed Sea: An Alliance Restored With Coastal Communities

Protecting the coast at Aného, Togo April 2024.

Credit: Nathan Ochole

When the powerful waves crashed onto the shores of Aného, Togo, and Grand Popo, Benin in April 2024, communities of these neighboring West African border towns were unfazed. They were rather at peace. Seeking relief from the hot sun, they gathered under the coconut trees to enjoy the fresh sea breeze.

Coastal erosion: a threat for coastal populations

But not long ago, living by the sea was terrifying for these same people. “There are no words to describe what the sea put us through,” recalls Ayayi Hounlede, a resident of the Flamani neighborhood on the coast of Aného. “At high tide, powerful waves over two meters high would crash and break the walls and doors of our homes, flooding them completely. We faced the risk of electrocution, and the men had to stay up all night to protect the women and children.”

About thirty kilometers away, in Grand-Popo, Benin, Couao-Zoti Ahlin Gustave, a retired bank official, remembers the fateful day when the hotel he had built for a peaceful retirement collapsed, struck by powerful waves. A lifetime’s investment swallowed by the sea.

The Tamed Sea: An Alliance Restored With Coastal Communities
A house destroyed by the sea, Togo, April 2024. Credit: Nathan Ochole.

For decades, the West African coast has been ravaged by fast-moving coastal erosion, destroying investments and threatening lives. Each year, Benin and Togo lose about 15 meters of coastline, and in some places, between 20 to 30 meters, leading to disastrous consequences.

Yet, the bond between the sea and coastal populations remains very strong. 

We are people of the sea, and it is at the heart of our daily lives. But as a result of human action and climate change, the sea has become a formidable adversary, threatening our lives, engulfing our homes, and washing away our places of remembrance, some of which lie more than 500 meters into the sea.
Alexis Aquereburu
Alexis Aquereburu,
Mayor of the Lacs 1 Commune, Aneho, Togo

WACA Revives Hope: A true "Reconciliation with the Sea" takes place!

Amidst the dire situation gripping countries along the West African coast, hope emerges with the West Africa Coastal Areas Management Program (WACA), launched in 2018 with and financed with $594 million from the World Bank through the International Development Association (IDA).

In Benin and Togo, the WACA program has funded approximately twenty major cross-border infrastructure projects, spanning over 42 kilometers, including breakwaters, groins, sand walls, and more. From Agbodrafo to Aného in Togo, to Hillacondji and Grand-Popo in Benin, the results speak volumes: a remarkable retreat of the sea by hundreds of meters. “In Grand-Popo, the sea has receded by more than 200 meters, and we have regained a larger beach that stretches over 5.3 kilometers long!” exclaims Joycelyn Ayité Ayi, the mayor of the city.

The Tamed Sea: An Alliance Restored With Coastal Communities
Youngsters playing soccer on the reconstructed beach where the sea once reigned supreme, Aného, April 2024. Credit: Nathan Ochole.

Behind the numbers lies a human story of resilience and relief: the lives and livelihoods of 27,000 households, comprising about 145,000 individuals, are now protected from the threat of flooding. “We now sleep peacefully, free from the fear of inundation,” says Hounlédé. “We have regained our beach, and with the heatwaves of the season, every night, over 50 people come to the beach with their mats to take in fresh air and sleep until dawn.”

In Aného, the restored beach has transformed into a vibrant hub of recreation and sports, restoring hope for the communities. As Mayor Aquereburu reflects, “WACA is not merely a project; it’s a beacon of hope, a testament to our resilience and reconciliation with the sea, our lifeblood.”

A Revival in fishing activities

On the coasts of Togo and Benin, artisanal fishing is regaining intensity. In front of piles of freshly landed fish from the boats at Kpémé, Togo, Djourdé Bouboukari, a former student turned fisherman, explains that the return of fish is directly related to WACA's work. “Fish thrive in pits. With WACA’s works, underwater excavations were dug to collect the sand used to rebuild the beaches. When fish pass by, they are funneled toward the shore. This is a boon for us!" he explains enthusiastically.

The Tamed Sea: An Alliance Restored With Coastal Communities
Florence Akouété, fishmonger in Kpémé, Togo, April 2024. | Djourdé Bouboukari, student who turned into a fisherman, April 2024. Credit: Nathan Ochole

Within a year of these efforts, species that had vanished from the coasts began to return, according to Dosseh Legbeze, chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Cooperatives of Togo. "On good fishing days, our income can reach FCFA3 to 4 million (about 8,000 dollars) per day!"

Down the supply chain, fishmongers are seeing significant improvement in their livelihoods. In Kpémé, fishmonger Florence Akouete no longer faces supply shortages. “We get fish every day, except on Wednesdays when the men don’t go to sea,” she says. A mother of three, she sells smoked fish in nearby villages and in the capital city, Lomé. “I buy food, give pocket money to my children, help my husband with the family’s medical expenses, and treat myself to my own needs.”

Unlocking opportunities for investments in ecotourism

WACA's coastal protection efforts are restoring investors’ confidence and showcasing the natural tourist attractions of various cities. Lionel Djondo, in his forties, no longer worries about the survival of his Miadjoe restaurant in Aného, located at the mouth between the ocean and Lake Togo. Encouraged by WACA's results, he is now building a new beachfront hotel, feeling that he has arrived “at a time when all the stars were aligned.” “WACA’s achievements have reassured us and gave us the confidence to invest in this new hotel. We aim to attract more tourists, and we hope to be able to create up to 500 direct and indirect jobs for young people,” he says.

The mayor of Grand-Popo is eager to capitalize on the city's strategic location on the Abidjan-Lagos corridor. “Our position is strategic. We plan to build ecotourism infrastructures, and we are currently developing a plan that will attract economic operators to invest in these beautiful areas,” he says.

Restoring biodiversity and supporting economic activities for women

WACA is a multidimensional project. Beyond coastal protection, it also focuses on ecological restoration and poverty reduction. The revival of mangroves in coastal areas is allowing previously threatened biodiversity to recover. 87 hectares of mangroves are protected in the Togbin Adounko Community Biodiversity Conservation Area in Benin, while 257 hectares have been planted in Togo. These nature-based solutions are protecting lagoon banks from erosion, restoring aquatic fauna, preserving biodiversity, and contributing to carbon sequestration.

The Tamed Sea: An Alliance Restored With Coastal Communities
Mangrove forest at Togbin Adounko, Benin, April 2024. Credit: Nathan Ochole

WACA also targets women in rural areas with economic initiatives. The 730 members of the Agricultural Products Processors Cooperative in Agamé, Benin, have seen improved living conditions thanks to a FCFA37 million grant, enabling them to acquire modern equipment and enhance their activities. Similarly, the 79 members of the Dagbé Néva Association in Mome Katihoue, Togo, are delighted to have increased their palm oil production fourfold.

Towards a blue economy agenda in West Africa

In all the other countries covered by WACA—Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, and Senegal— efforts are accelerating to ensure a sustainable future for coastal communities.

“The development challenges of coastal erosion are complex and must be addressed with a regional approach. The concerted action between Benin and Togo in the implementation of cross-border coastal infrastructures is a beautiful illustration of regional integration. It is a first in West Africa!” says Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director of Regional Integration for Africa and the Middle East. “We are already thinking about the next phase of WACA, which will take into account all dimensions of the blue economy in West Africa,” she concludes.

The future of WACA is promising, and has attracted other partners

In Togo, the Agence française de développement and Invest International are providing respectively 35 million and 25 million euros to continue coastal protection works. In Benin, the Nordic Development Fund is financing stabilization and development works on the south bank of the Mono River at Gbêkon, to protect over 21,000 households from flooding.


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