In the northern Senegalese city of Saint-Louis, excavators are
ripping up the beach to lay giant basalt blocks in an 11th-hour effort to keep the sea at bay. When finished, a black sea wall will stretch 3.6 kilometers along the coast of the country’s former capital.
Dire warnings about the risk of rising sea levels already are a grim reality in Saint-Louis, where seafront residents are abandoning their homes to the encroaching Atlantic Ocean.
The sea wall is a stopgap. Some are skeptical that the historic city of 237,000 people can be saved at all.
Saint-Louis stands only a few meters above sea level. Coastal erosion also is eating away at the shoreline.
Many locals have had little choice but to move to a displacement camp inland because their homes have been swallowed up by the raging sea, the erosion and the crumbling ground beneath them.
Erosion is causing the coastline to recede by 1.8 meters a year across the region, according to a 2019 World Meteorological Organization report.
The encroaching sea already has caused severe damage.
Flooding in 2017 and 2018 left more than 3,200 people homeless. About 1,500 of them now live in a displacement camp in Djougop, farther inland.
The disaster prompted Senegal to begin building the sea wall in 2019, partly financed by France. The project is worth $117 million and also includes a rehousing program. Building was due to finish by the end of 2021.
The project also requires home demolitions in a 20-meter-wide strip behind the barrier. Between 10,000 to 15,000 people are to be uprooted, said Mandaw Gueye, an official working on the project.
Some will end up in Djougop and nearby neighborhoods, where the World Bank is helping to fund construction of 600 homes, he said. Other project officials stressed that the displaced would be compensated.
The sea barrier is a short-term emergency measure and not designed to be impermeable. The government says it is studying more durable solutions.