By Alagie Manneh
In a disaster-ravaged multiple-building compound in the north of the capital Banjul, Aisha Nyang, 26, joined a handful of her neighbours to eat lunch. It has been like that since August last year when the country suffered its worst flooding ‘in nearly half a century’.
“We had lost everything,” said Aisha, washing her hands.
Two hundred and seventy-six millimeters of rain fell in two days in the capital Banjul, according to the Department of Water Resources. Hundreds of houses have been completely or partially damaged and cannot be lived in without risk, it added.
But that is a risk Aisha and her family are forced to take. “We have nowhere else to run to. We had to move out to a government facility that was housing displaced families, but that was temporary, and we had no choice but to come back here with all the risks.”
A once relatively thriving low-income family, Aisha said they have nothing to their name now. “I was living here with my mother, grandmother, and siblings. We were seven, and we lived here for 10 years. But the floods destroyed our house, furniture, and clothing. It took everything. Now we take each day as it comes.”
The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), has said that 11 people had died and more than 5,000 internally displaced, blaming climate change for the extreme weather.
The Gambia is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including floods, storms, drought, cold spells, sea level rise, and heatwaves, according to the World Bank. The island capital of Banjul is positioned on a peninsula where the River Gambia flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
The country is among the top ten countries most vulnerable to coastal erosion and sea-level rise in the world, according to its final status report on the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA).
In recent years, the The Gambia experienced increased frequency and intensity of drought, flooding, coastal erosion, windstorms, high temperatures, and intense and erratic rainfalls, the report stated. “These extreme weather events severely hinder The Gambia’s sustainable development and poverty eradication efforts,” it said.
Despite contributing less than 0.01 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, The Gambia – particularly its historic capital city Banjul, is identified globally as being one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climatechange, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“We are one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of climate change in the whole world. We have some of the best climate change and adaptation strategies, but our issue is funding. That is why at the Doha convergence, we intend to meet with the relevant partners in terms of human capacity to help develop our adaptation and mitigation policies,” said Mr Omar Badjie, the director of industry, investment and enterprise development at the trade ministry.
Under its Istanbul Programme of Action, The Gambia recommended that, to tackle its climate problems, it must promote capacity building in specialised areas relevant to environment and natural resources; promote collaboration and awareness raising with its relevant partners and stakeholders and; investing in building the resilience of communities through the establishment of strong infrastructure amongst others.
According to Badjie, these recommendations will come to the fore when the country join partners to participate in the upcoming 5th UN Conference of Least Developed Countries (LDC5) to be held in Qatar from March 5-9 this year.
There, world leaders will meet with the private sector, civil society, parliamentarians, development partners, and young people to ‘advance new ideas’, and deliver on the promise and ambition of the Doha Programme of Action (DPoA).
The DPoA “manifests a new generation of renewed and strengthened commitments between the least developed countries and their development partners, including the private sector, civil society, and governments at all levels”. It includes six key focus areas: Investing in people, eradicating poverty and building capacity; leveraging the power of science, technology & innovation; supporting structural transformation as a driver of prosperity; enhancing international trade and regional integration; tackling climate change, Covid-19 & building resilience and; mobilising international partnerships for sustainable graduation.
Mr Badjie harped on the significance of the DPoA’s priority areas for The Gambia, emphasizing the need for The Gambia to localise, domesticate, and mainstream them in its National Development Plan (NDP).
“The DPoA is the overarching priority area, and every LDC including The Gambia must see themselves in it. If you look at the validated NDP, you will see a lot on the DPoA. Even for the ministries of Finance and Trade, most of our policies have to be in line with the DPoA,” he explained.
He said The Gambia intends to hold a series of side meetings with stakeholders and other partners soliciting support for its NDP. “We have one of the best climate change and adaptation policies. [But] our issue is funding.”
Mr Badjie said The Gambia’s future will be at stake during the Doha talks, as its capital Banjul remains one of the most vulnerable cities in the world. “Those are the issues we intend to focus on.”
Although there are hardly any current projects to help families like the Nyang’s, Badji said their situation will be related in Doha with a view to addressing them. “We have a some mitigation plans that need to be rolled out. But people should rememberthat climate change mitigation or adaptation is capital intensive, and that remains our biggest challenge,” he said.
The country has programmes to combat climate and flood disasters, with an ambition to establish a National Climate Change Fund. But a lack of fund to run these programmes means that families like the Nyangs would have to continue fending for themselves, at least for now.
The Standard’s Alagie Manneh will be reporting on The Gambia’s involvement at the LDC5 from 5th to 9th March in Qatar.