Wednesday, 7. March 2012
The atmosphere in the Old City, equally characterised by its colonial architecture and modern urban development, is anything but unperturbed - above all, among those who live near the coast and hear the sound of the waves of the Atlantic at night. To them, the danger is ever-present … “Something inexplicable happens at night. One hears a strange noise, then the water comes right inside the hotel,” says Alpha Touré, owner of the Hotel Coral Beach. “The sea has already claimed my straw hut, although the hut was at least eleven metres from the sea. That’s why there’s no fence any more. The water took it, too.“ The inhabitants of Grand-Bassam and especially of Azuretti openly admit that they hardly sleep any more.
The thought that they, too, might be swallowed up by the sea troubles them constantly. Deeply concerned, Monsieur Bognan Kouassi of Azuretti demands: “We are troubled. We can do nothing about the situation. In our view, what we are doing has never contributed to the sea’s coming closer and closer. The state has to help us find a solution, otherwise the water will sweep us all away with it.” And Koblan Atchine, born in the same village, speaks openly about his fear. More than thirty years ago, Jean-Baptiste Mockey, the now-deceased first mayor of Grand-Bassam had confided something to him. “He told me that one day the sea would come right up to the village,” Koblan Atchine recollects. The prospect that this “prophecy” could be fulfilled appals him. He adds: “To us, this phenomenon is nothing new. We are worried, and the authorities have to do something so we don’t have to leave our village.” However, he cannot readily conceive of an evacuation of the population of Grand-Bassam. “Abidjan is getting bigger by the day, and is now almost next-door to Grand-Bassam. We don’t know where else to go if we abandon the village because of the approaching sea,” he offers for consideration.
The Sea Is Advancing – Solutions and Everyday Fear
At present, for oceanologists the solution is not to be found in the evacuation of the population of Grand-Bassam, but rather in the construction of fortifications on a large scale. “What is happening in Grand-Bassam is due to a sediment transport along the coastline. We must therefore consider how to stop a major portion of these sediments that are being deposited alongside the city. Fortifications have to be built to intercept the sediment transport parallel to the coast,” recommends Dr. Koffi Koffi Philibert. In his view, opening the river delta would relieve the water surfaces of the lagoons of Bassam and promote economic activities, especially fishing. “Because of the closure of the river delta, the water of the Comoé (one of the Ivory Coast’s longest rivers), the water flows towards for about 35 to 40 kilometres before it drains off at the level of the canal. No matter what is undertaken, the Canal de Vridi and the river delta of Bassam have to be factored in together,”he notes.
And the king of the N’Zima Kotoko, the indigenous people of Grand-Bassam, His Majesty Tanoé Amon, is clearly concerned about flooding caused by the approaching sea. “Grand-Bassam could disappear if nothing is done. And it would be a bitter loss for Africa if the city were in fact to disappear,” he said recently in the courtyard of the village elder of Azuretti, Nanan Bognan. The occasion was a visit by various environmental experts and the former governor of the district of Yamoussoukro, Minister Jean Konan Banny. For His Majesty Tanoé, “Grand-Bassam is a treasure.“ He therefore recommends that the Ivory Coast take the problem seriously; all the more so, because Grand-Bassam is on its way to being included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. For the king of the N’Zima Kotoko, the opening of the river delta of Grand-Bassam is one of the sustainable solutions for the advancing sea. “We want an opening of the river delta in the form of a permanent canal, not an artificial or temporary opening,” he adds.
Meanwhile, as progress on the comprehensive construction measures still drag on, the hotel and restaurant owners of Grand-Bassam fear for the survival of their businesses. “The danger posed by the sea is already preventing our customers from coming. If things go on like this, we shall be forced to close our hotels and restaurants, leaving several hundred young people out of work,” one of them warns.
The sea is thus threatening not only homes, but jobs as well. In Grand-Bassam fear is felt daily …
Translation: Edit Watts
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