Monday, September 25

Tree planting in Banjul: a resilient city’s fight against climate change

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By Alagie Manneh

On a windy evening in July 2022, a dark, blue skyline with promise of a heavy rain hanged over The Gambia’s capital. Unlike the rural agrarian Gambia, a pregnant cloud sends chills down the spine of capital dwellers. Aisha Nyang lives in the North of the capital, in one of the areas most vulnerable to floods, in a slum-like multiple-building compound. As the rains began at 3am that morning, she sat painfully watching her house slowly submerge.

“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,” Ms Nyang, 26, recalled.  


But her family was not the only one destroyed by the 2022 flash floods. At least eleven people had also died with more than 5,000 internally displaced, according to the National Disaster Management Agency, NDMA, which blamed climate change for the extreme weather.

Banjul’s north sits near a lake in the low-lying coastal capital where the canal often overflows its banks, particularly during the rainy season, leading to flood disasters in many homes.

Broadly, sitting less than a metre above sea-level, Banjul itself is vulnerable and at peril. The island capital is positioned on a peninsula where the River Gambia flows into the Atlantic Ocean, and experts, in a May 2020 survey predicted that the worse is yet to come for the 35,000 people who live there. They say that a global heating of 4.5C above pre-industrial levels could lead to a sea level rise of between 0.6 and 1.3 metres by 2100 which could submerge all of Banjul.

Resilient people

Despite a gloomy future, and a city in jeopardy, the people of Banjul have not lost all hope. A number of determined green groups and youth organisations are figting to save the city by building its resilince, under an EU funded City-link Ostend Banjul project, at a tune of 3.1 million euros. A component of the project seeks to make the whole of Banjul green, dubbed ‘Planting Trees to Save Banjul’.

Launched in August 2020, the project’s impact has been slow yet striking in efforts to enhancing the resilience and environmental sustainability of Banjul. More than 3,000 coconut trees and vegetation including moringa and casuarina have been planted along the coastline. The people behind the initiative say they hope to, in time, save not only Banjul, but prevent disasters the like of which devastated the Nyang family.

“We have planted over 3700 trees on the coastline of Banjul stretching more than a kilometre, and within the inner city we have planted 450 trees within the corridors of Banjul,” said Anette Camara, the commmunicatios  officer of the project.

“We are planting these trees because Banjul is a low-lying city below sea-level, and it is the highest risk zone in the country with regard to floods, climate change, and heat,” Ms Camara added.

She said that the excessive heat in Banjul has become unbearable, and that’s why the project focused on massive coconut tree planting.

Coconuts and other perennials are more resilient to climate change impacts like droughts, high winds, and floods, according to a study published by Forbes. “Coconut trees have the highest rate of absorbing water, and that is the main reason why coconut is the target for the coastal line,” said Ms Camara. “We are trying to restore some of the lost land that belonged to Banjul.”

An additional 1000 various varieties of trees, such as moringa, silk cotton, and baobab will also be planted to improve the quality of the coastal landscape.

To improve local particiaption and a sense of ownershpip, the initiative has been deliberately targeting the involvement of numerous community green groups and youth movements.

“Various other steps have been taken to ensure the long-term well-being of these trees and the community,” said Ms Camara.

For Lamin Biram Bah, the lawmaker for Banjul North, it is important that proper mechanisms are put in place to ensure disasters the like of which ruined the Nyang family is not prevented.

“The entire situation is very devastating,” he said. While praising the resilience of the communities in the face of climate change, he pointed out indiscriminate dumping and poor drainage systems as contributing factors. 

A youth activist who took part in the planting exercises said he owes it to the community to help plant trees that are likely to help save Banjul.

“The trees will help against soil erosion and mitigate sea level rise,” remarked another young man.

News of the massive resilience and adaptation buiding and what it could mean elated Ms Nyang, who, more than a year later is still reeling the effects of the devastation caused by the flash floods. She feels that the initiative might have come “too litte too late” for her family, as it forced her mother to leave the country to resettle in Guinea with few of her children.

The bigger picture

The Gambia’s future is indeed gloomy and doomy as one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including floods, storms, cold spells, sea level rise, and heatwaves, according to the World Bank.

In the 2022 flood disaster, 276 millimeters of rain fell in two days in the capital Banjul, according to the Department of Water Resources. “Hundreds of houses and livelihoods had been completely damaged”, it said.

The livelihoods of some 25 to 30,000 people who work in the fisheries sector are also being threatened by sea-level rise and other climate change impacts. 

“Fisheries managers and resource users are confronted with the challenges in responding to climate change and variability,” said Perpetua Katepa Kalala, the former FAO representative in The Gambia.

“Extreme weather events like floods have also increased poverty by damaging infrastructure such as roads, making it hard for farmers to take their produce to markets,” said Seraphine Wakana, UN resident coordinator in The Gambia.

But on the margins of the recently ended UN fifth conference on Least Developed Countries (LDC5) summit in Qatar, Gambia’s environment and climate change minister, Rohey John Manjang, was specific on what needs to happen if The Gambia is to be successful in the crusade against climate change.

“For The Gambia to achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it will need at least 4 billion dollars,” she told a side event in Doha on advancing national adaptation plans in LDCs.

But as families like the Nyang’s try to put back their lives together after so much loss and misfortune, the prospect of another rainy season and what it might bring worries them. They hope that, at least in part, the tree planting initiative will somehow help them avert another major disaster.