Liberia: Defending the coast

Source(s): United Nations Development Programme - Liberia

By Andrea Egan, Adey Tesfaye, Muyeye Chambwera, and Sheku Davowa

It is projected that a one-metre sea level rise would lead to permanent inundation of about 95 km2 of land in the coastal zone of Liberia.

Densely populated parts of the capital city of Monrovia and its environs – including West Point, Hotel Africa, Kru Town, and River Cess - would be submerged.

Nascent sea level rise is already damaging the shoreline and affecting the coastal communities inhabiting the area. 

... and the sea rises higher

In the northwestern coastal community of New Kru Town, a suburb of the capital Monrovia, the dark tides of rising seas are literally washing away settlements, the community school, the docks and coastal fish markets. As this infrastructure is eroded there are massive reverberations for housing, education and livelihoods - fishing being chief among them.

For New Kru Town, with thousands of metres of sensitive coastline, and a scant six metres of rapidly eroding elevation standing between the ocean and residents, seasonal heavy rains and coastal erosion represent a growing threat.

Reducing vulnerabilities, protecting communities 

In July 2018, the President of Liberia, George Weah, launched the second phase of the UNDP-supported project Enhancing Resilience of Vulnerable Coastal Areas to Climate Change Risks in Liberia (Coastal Defence Project Phase II for short), financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund.

 The Coastal Defence Phase II project is working to reduce vulnerability and build the resilience of local communities and socio-economic sectors to withstand the threats of climate change in Liberia’s coastal areas. It will reduce the vulnerability of physical assets and natural systems, protect coastal areas, build national capacity and drive policy co-ordination, and demonstrate sustainable and affordable measures to protect coastal areas against climate change impacts at New Kru Town.

The Environment Protection Agency, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the Ministry of Public Works, with UNDP support, are leading its implementation on the ground.

28,000 steps in the right direction

The project is providing support to improve the livelihoods of the citizens of Liberia directly benefitting more than 28,000 people.

"Since the launch of the project by His Excellency the President, we have witnessed tremendous progress in its implementation. We are already advocating for an allocation in the national budget for the project to support long-term maintenance. We are also planning the future of the project area, and are exploring the provision of incentives for private investors to contribute towards reclaiming the land that has been affected by flooding and coastal erosion, increasing its value and suitability for dwellings, recreation and conservation” - Hon. Nathaniel T. Blama, Sr, Executive Director of Liberia Environment Protection Agency.

Vital access

The Coastal Defence Phase II project is working to protect New Kru town, one of the country’s most vulnerable coastal communities.

The main intervention in New Kru Town is the construction of a coastal defence wall targeting a stretch of 1200m along the shoreline which will be completed by the end of the project.

New Kru Town is predominantly a fishing community, so access to the sea is vital. Local fishermen worried that boat landings would be impossible if seawalls were constructed straight along the beach, so project engineers incorporated customised breakwaters into the design, which allow for easy launching and landing of local fishing vessels.

Further, a central fish market hall will be constructed as part of adaptation efforts, and the community school will be protected by the wall’s defences. Beyond coastal community protection, the seawall also has utility as a right-of-way, with community members utilising the structure as a coastal road.

In addition to the seawall, the project is spearheading cleanup efforts, opening blocked drainages and controlling rain flooding, with community members participating and earning an income. Other community members are provided with technical training on coastal wall construction activities.

The project has already constructed more than 540 metres of seawalls as of 2018, and is on target to reach 1200m by its end date of May 2019.

From Liberia to Paris

Taking an integrated approach to climate action will help Liberia reach their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and bolsters efforts toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda, all while providing the necessary framework to build resilient industries, protect ecoystems and natural resources, and support a climate resilient future for vulnerable people.

Climate change adaptation and resilience-building efforts are an essential building block of a zero-carbon future, and will be key drivers in supporting Liberia to reach its commitments to the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Building on success

For Liberia, enhanced co-ordination is imperative in creating a climate-resilient coast and achieving these broader goals.

By building on the successes of other UNDP-supported projects in Liberia, such as a project to strengthen climate information services by establishing integrated early warning systems throughout the country and a new GCF-funded project to support Liberia in advancing the country’s National Adaptation Plans, the Coastal Defence Project serves as a catalyst for further progress in Liberia’s climate change adaptation efforts.

For more information on Liberia's Coastal Defence project, visit the project profile.

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