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Lagos is sinking and we may be running out of time to do something about it9 min read

August 15, 2021 6 min read

Lagos is sinking and we may be running out of time to do something about it9 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Part 2 of this story is available. Click on the next page at the bottom of this article.

If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in the ancient underwater cities of Atlantis or Pompeii, that reality may soon be upon us. Not to sound like the bearer of terrible news, but….errr.. it’s not looking good. Coastal cities are being increasingly eroded by rising sea levels and studies say entire cities may be underwater by 2100!

Let’s take the example of one of Africa’s biggest cities to illustrate this point. To find out which city we’re talking about, complete this puzzle.

The island city

A painting of the streets of Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: Saatchi Art

In order to understand why Lagos is in its current predicament, it’s important to know its composition. This city of 14 million people, which is the second-largest on the continent, is an island city, made up of a mainland and a string of islands.

These smaller islands are separated by creeks and lagoons and connected by three main bridges. The islands are the city’s most popular areas, and most activities and businesses are concentrated here.

The mainland, on the other hand, does have a large section of people living in it but is more an industrial hub.

An island city sounds cool; what’s the problem?

Well, for starters, how can a string of ‘many’ islands even be called one city? And what about all the traffic? And….and…ok I got carried away there…

Ahem, let’s get back to the actual problem. Lagos has been grappling with an eroding coastline. What this means is that the sea is eating into the coastline and the city is literally being swallowed by it! Not in one gulp, but slowly, and over time.

Coastlines can erode due to many reasons. In this case, it is primarily because of rising sea levels and sand mining. This has, over the years, led to excess flooding inland and this was seen as recently as in the last month when Lagos was again inundated during the rainy season.

To be fair, the city’s flooding has some other reasons too. A constant influx of people to the city (it’s one of Africa’s biggest economic hubs) creates pressure, increases the density of population, and therefore, stresses the environment around it. Consequentially, this population generates 6,000 – 10,000 tonnes of rubbish every day (which is about as much as 1,500 male African elephants!), which aren’t always disposed of correctly. So the waste clogs the drains and allows rainwater to stagnate.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations: Sand mining is the process of extracting sand from an open pit. But sometimes, this process is also done on inland dunes and beaches, causing the soil to erode. Often, when the soil erosion rates are high, there is a higher chance of flooding, and destruction of marine life habitat.

Lagos isn’t new to floods. It’s always had issues during the rainy season and its citizens are used to the city being underwater for a few days between March and November each year. But with rising sea levels, the floods have gotten worse over the years and this year, in particular, has been devastating.

Climate change may eventually reduce the amount of rainfall the city gets, but the period of rain is projected to be more intense. To get an idea of how bad it is, check out this person’s social media post.

But after the rains, the floods will go away. Why is the city sinking?

That’s actually a really good question. We’ll answer that on the next page.

Pause, think, and flip to page 2 to know more.

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