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Last Updated: Monday, 8 October 2007, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
The Ivorian town sinking under waves
By James Copnall
BBC News, Grand Lahou

The historic old colonial town of Grand Lahou is in danger of being swallowed up by the sea.

Ivory Coast floods aftermath
Some predict the town will be under water in 10 years

Once one of the first points of contact between Africans and the French in what is now Ivory Coast, Grand Lahou is threatened by a combination of climate change and other factors.

Some predict the town will be completely under water within 10 years, and it is widely accepted it is doomed unless drastic action is taken.

If it does disappear under the waves it will be something like a second death for the town.

First the imposing old French colonial buildings were abandoned, and now the current ramshackle houses that sprang up alongside the old French buildings are threatened.

'Still scared'

Amelie, a mother aged about 40 years, is one of those who lost their house to the sea.

Ivory Coast floods aftermath
When the sea swells it digs chunks out of the sandy beach

"That night was terrible!" she says.

"The sea smashed into our house, and I had to get my family out.

"We have rebuilt our house 20 metres away. But I am still scared. The way the sea keeps rising, it is certain to reach there too."

Amelie, like others in this poor fishing community, doesn't want to move away from her sources of income - the sea, and the nearby lagoon, which both provide fish she can sell.

Global warming

But a combination of the sea to the front and the water behind is killing Grand Lahou.

The remains of the lighthouse
Look at that chunk of concrete in the sea - that used to be a lighthouse!
'Jack Bauer'
Grand Lahou resident

According to Guillaume Za-Bi, a senior scientist at the Ivorian Ministry of the Environment, the uncontrolled mouth of the river Bandama is attacking the town from behind, while the sea is eroding it from the front.

It is a complicated problem, and one for which it seems global warming is at least partly responsible.

"Climate change is one of the reasons for what we can locally see in Grand Lahou," Mr Za-Bi explains.

"It is not the only reason but it could be one of the main reasons because of the sea level which is getting higher."

Digging chunks

Take a stroll along the sea-front at Grand Lahou, and it is difficult not to be impressed by the line of swaying palm trees, and the picturesque carcasses of old French mansions.

It is impossible not to fear, too, for the people who live in hastily constructed houses right on the tide line.

When the sea swells up, it digs chunks out of the sandy beach just centimetres away from some of the makeshift houses.

"We have lost three whole streets to the sea," claims one man, who calls himself 'Jack Bauer' after a popular TV character.

"Look at that chunk of concrete in the sea - that used to be a lighthouse!"

Moving on

Political authorities have already all but given up on Grand Lahou.

Most of the town's inhabitants have moved to a new town, Nouveau Lahou, some 15km (9.4 miles) away.

But several hundred are still here, preferring to stay near their ancestral homes or because of the fish that provides their livelihood.

The mayor of the town, Arsene Usher, says it would take huge resources to save the town, particularly if the mouth of the Bandama is to be controlled.

There were plans to do this, but they were shelved after a coup d'etat in 1999.

Costly solutions

"I feel we have been abandoned a bit," Mr Usher says.

Flood ruined home
Residents feel abandoned

"What is certain is that if nothing is done, Grand Lahou will disappear.

"And that would be a tragedy.

"It's a beautiful spot, and it should be a tourist attraction that brings money in to Ivory Coast."

The problem is not restricted to Grand Lahou either.

Erosion is affecting much of Ivory Coast's coastline, and indeed many other places in West Africa.

But solutions are extremely costly, and for the moment it seems likely that Amelie and others will lose their houses before anything is done.

Footage of the town being lost to the seas

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