Lagos suburb swallowed by rising sea faces irreversible collapse

Experts admit they are in uncharted territory and say their plan is five years behind schedule

The historic suburb of Makoko is withering away before the eyes of the world. A virtual flood plain, one metre above sea level, and swallowed by the sea for centuries, it is on its way to become a graveyard. Soaring sea levels have reached too far and fast for the community to survive.

At 27 hectares (67 acres) it is the most densely populated place on the island. Barely a quarter of the land is fenced off, and the remaining space is vulnerable to wave, storm and tidal assaults. Most of the population live in some 2,000 houses built on stilts. Now rising sea levels are expected to submerge all of it in the next 50 years.

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“This is an unstoppable trend. As the water goes higher, the houses will get destroyed,” said Lateef Adebule, a lecturer in construction at the Lagos State University.

The European Union’s undersecretary for environment, Phillip Altbach, has described Makoko as an an “environmental blackspot” and warned that it is “already close to collapse”.

A poster for the 2018 Making Our World Wet campaign in Makoko, Lagos. Photograph: David Guttenfelder/AP

A National Climate Change action plan states that the rising sea level “will result in land subsidence causing severe water inundation, making the community uninhabitable.”

The architects of the Makoko 2100 initiative – a major effort to save the town – last week admitted they had been slow to respond to a crisis that is happening years earlier than predicted.

While countries wrangle over who should pay for the climate crisis, communities like Makoko are being swallowed by the sea. Photograph: Valerio Baldé/AFP/Getty Images

A former member of the House of Representatives, Yinka Ibori, has launched a luxury real estate development in the town as an alternative. He plans to convert some of the buildings into luxury homes with shops on top of them.

Some people have reacted by burning valuable possessions to create firewood for their own house. But Adebule fears it could spell disaster for the town.

“Most of these houses will collapse,” he said. “But it is better that we burn our houses than they will fall into the sea.”

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