From rising sea levels and floods to deforestation and toxic waste, Africa is facing the worst environmental crisis in the past hundred years. But a group of residents living in the middle of Lagos Island are asking: which of our countries will inherit our ecological crisis and how will we survive?
Located in one of the oldest cities in Africa, Lagos Island is an indelible part of the African identity. Yet today, it is also one of the most flooded neighbourhoods in the continent, as the lagoon around it continues to submerge its land and homes.
Hajiya Bata says that, in the early hours of the morning, life here is a continual struggle: “People look on as the Atlantic Ocean begins to lap at the edge of their own homes; while some, like my son, play cricket amidst the water, others watch in stunned silence.”
A vice-president at the Lagos-based Nassrulul Islam Movement, or NASM, which supports women in Islam, Hajiya Bata is concerned about what she describes as a looming “disaster”. “If we don’t do something, it could start to engulf this place,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The sea is increasingly rising on the outskirts of Lagos; in recent years, experts have warned that it may already have reached parts of Lagos itself. According to a January government report, coastal Lagos is so threatened that it is likely to become uninhabitable in some parts within the next 100 years.
At the same time, many of Lagos’ most vulnerable neighbourhoods have been rendered unliveable. With residents’ access to water limited to their homes or to stormwater canals, many homes are barely habitable. In areas such as Mabushi, a suburb south of the city centre, 75% of homes are completely submerged, a lack of which has worsened the water crisis.
“It’s no longer only the water; it’s the access too,” Bata says. “The major problem is that the only place to get water in these parts is from the river bank.”
Bala Abdulkareem has been living in Mabushi for more than 35 years. He has been raising a family in the flooded area, but he is scared that the eventual impact of climate change on the surrounding environment could destroy his house.
“We’ve been told that within two to three years this place will be totally submerged, so we’re planning to move out,” he says.
Hajiya Bata is also concerned. She says that she would like to see her role model – the late Muslim theologian, Ahmed Rufai – mark a larger role for religious leaders in the struggle against environmental degradation and climate change. She wants religious leaders to start speaking up and organizing against the ecological crisis, even if it takes a long time.
“It will not be easy; no one has ever really dealt with the issue of climate change on the religious level, because the fact is that it’s considered a criminal issue in the West,” she said. “But if we start to talk about it in the Western parts, we’ll have to start bringing it down the line here. So what I think that we need is for these leaders to start to speak out against this issue.”