Keta – Point of no return

Coast in the Volta delta

Coast in the Volta delta

On 26 July 2015, the DECCMA team visited the district of Keta on the coast of Ghana as part of a field program. The first stop was Fort Prinzenstein on the Gulf of Guinea. Fort Prinzenstein is one of several ‘point of no return’ locations for the slaves who were transported across the Atlantic. It is hard to fathom the thought of those unfortunate souls who were looking at the far away ocean while passing through this ‘point of no return’.

Whilst inside the fort, it was difficult to hear the heart wrenching story of enslavement and the debasement of humanity during the time of slave trading. Fort Prinzenstein has stood for hundreds of years as a reminder of our inhumanity.

Now, half of the fort is gone to the raging sea which is trying to engulf the fort as if to erase our shameful past. In front of half of the fort, a line of sea defence has been erected to protect Keta from further erosion. I could not help but ponder to myself whether, we as mankind, have reached another kind of ‘point of no return’ and this time another human folly – climate change.

The defence is impressive and appears to be impregnable. It took 15 million cubic meters of sand and one million tonnes of granite to build this steely defence. Coming from Bangladesh, I could not help but gaze at this impressive defence with envy, but will it hold against the rising sea? Will it prove to be a successful adaptation to climate change or turn out to be a maladaptation in the end?

Such ‘hold the shoreline’ defences are now necessary given the current threats, but how have we reached this stage? A major cause of increasing sea erosion is the loss of sediment nourishment due to the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River. Research by our Ghana colleagues shows that this sea defence is causing down drift erosion, transferring the risk downstream. The defence is itself at risk due to bottom scouring. Our Indian colleagues informed us that in their part of the Mahanadi delta in Odisha, sand dunes are being looked at more favourably as a better natural defence than hard structures.

For a developing country like Bangladesh, we know how difficult it is to maintain such structures. The construction and maintenance of the sea defence are of much better quality, indicating a better governance system in place in Ghana than in our delta. What makes it tick in Ghana? Can we translate these to our part of the delta where we have to frequently engage armed forces to ensure quality and time of construction?

During the next 4 to 5 years we will have more opportunities to evaluate this impressive defence as an adaptation measure. We intend to learn from it and transfer the learning to our delta. We hope that it will stand its guard. Till then – looking at you Keta!

by Rezaur Rahman, DECCMA Bangladesh

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