Jericho island: Lagos given opportunity to save fishing community

Carp that gets the brunt of excessiveness of fisheries are having to endure loss of almost 200,000 sq metres a year

While countries wrangle over who should pay for the climate crisis, a community on Lagos Island is being swallowed by the sea

A stone’s throw from Lagos Island lies an island of settlement. It’s home to thousands of people, many of whom live in buildings that have been built on stilts to keep flood waters out. But the community, that is perhaps best known for its loitering community of fishermen, is under threat from the sea.

The death toll for the last century is 1,500 and the community of Jericho, where members come to sleep, gather and socialise, is already on the edge of the ocean. A team of environmentalists had promised to move the residents eight years ago, but now hopes for assistance are fading.

Even before this operation, on average 200,000 square metres – half the island – has been washed away every year by the tide. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem: the Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas gulf states have had similar experiences since the 1950s and 60s.

This is compounded by the fact that the community’s fishing fleet of 170 boats has been overfished to the point of diminishing returns, says Lara Holgate, director of the Kerala office of the NGO Earthlife International. “Most have gone out of business, but many continue to live in the middle of the sea and face the same dangers”.

Two or three of the boats are now kitted out with turtle-laying nets – devices that compensate for the reduction in the number of sperm whales that swim in the area.

“The town of Lagos is about to see the arrival of 16,000 graves,” said the mayor, Adebanjo Balogun, who has led the campaign to relocate the residents. “Jericho should only ever be a memory as soon as possible. We have no time to lose. Only yesterday they asked us to shut our side of the garden.”

As the process began in 2002, the mayor suspended work. “We didn’t just lose the small boats, all we lost was the little wooden front doors,” he said. In 2003, another suspension order was ordered. “We want to give Jericho a better future but they have nothing to ask for, no clothing or food. When it gets to the point that the community is no longer able to do what it does, you might have to move it a little distance down the road.”

But the matter is now before the courts. Through a court order, Jericho has blocked the relocation process, saying that it wants to remain in its current position.

The stress of living in the middle of the ocean, in communities that have been described as a kind of “bulk lake”, is already taking its toll. “During the rainy season, we are in danger of dying.”

Few realise it, but the Lagos government is ready and willing to relocate Jericho. It has just refurbished a site for a temporary campus to be set up by the Marina Community College, a federal institution that hopes to offer education and training in green technologies, coastal protection and coastal mapping.

The city has included the extension of an existing coastal management plan, known as the Eko City Plan, in the documents that will be used in the relocation bid.

A second proposal has also been drawn up to re-impose Lagos island on the coast, made up of a sandy belt with a glassy surface to minimise the effect of the waves. In this scheme of things, the Jericho community would have been accommodated inland.

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