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Climate Change Has Already Displaced Hundreds In Senegalese City Of Saint-Louis


The World Bank says there could be more than 140 million climate migrants by 2050, but this threat has already become a reality in certain parts of the world. Reporter Rebecca Rosman recently traveled to the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis located on the West African coastline where climate change has already displaced hundreds.


REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: Mbarack Fall lives for the smell of fresh catch literally.

MBARACK FALL: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: Fall lives in Guet Ndar, the main fishing quarter of Saint-Louis. Just about everyone in this overcrowded, energized neighborhood has something to do with fish. If you're not catching it, you're either selling it or cooking it.


ROSMAN: On this corner, a woman's frying up plump sardines, a typical afternoon snack.

M. FALL: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: "Fishing is all we know in Guet Ndar," Fall says.

M. FALL: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: About a year ago, waves started crashing into Fall's house near the shore, and then the roof came off.

M. FALL: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: So they relocated to the city's mainland. Fall still makes the trek every morning to the shore.

M. FALL: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: But he says the long commute has made things difficult, costing time and money. When it was colonized by the French in the 17th century, Saint-Louis' wet surroundings were seen as an economic blessing, giving life to a vibrant fishing industry. But now that blessing has become a double-edged sword.


ROSMAN: Guet Ndar sits along the Langue de Barbarie, a thin, 18-mile-long peninsula slowly falling into the Atlantic. As global temperatures rise, so do sea levels. The result - bigger, badder waves that move closer to the shore, eating up land.

LATYR FALL: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: Latyr Fall - no relation to Mbarack - is Saint-Louis' deputy mayor for economic issues. He's brought me right up to the shore.

L. FALL: (Through interpreter) Our parents tell us that when they would come to the beach, the waves were about 2 or 3 kilometers in front of us. Now the waves are coming into our homes.

ROSMAN: When the tide comes in this evening, Fall says the water will be at our feet.

L. FALL: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: To our left, there's what remains of a primary school. All the windows are blown out. The roof is gone, and there's puddles of water on the cement floor. To our right - a row of crumbling houses. Scenes like this are becoming the norm in Guet Ndar.

L. FALL: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: As we walk back towards the town center, we meet Oumoukantom Seck Mareyeur, a fish vendor.

OUMOUKANTOM SECK MAREYEUR: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: She's sitting on a stoop corner looking tired and hot. It's the end of the day, and all she wants to do is sell the last kilo of fish in her bucket. When I ask how she feels about what's happening to her neighborhood, a whole new wave of fatigue washes over her face.

MAREYEUR: (Through interpreter) You know, we have all kinds of problems in this region - malaria, diarrhea. But people in Guet Ndar - our biggest fear is water. We're constantly worried, worried our people will die.

ROSMAN: During a visit to Saint-Louis last year, French president Emmanuel Macron pledged 15 million euros to fight the city's coastal erosion, topping up a 24 million euro package from the World Bank.


PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Through interpreter) Economic activity is being destroyed, and the city is slowly falling behind because of what some people try to deny - the effects of climate change.

ROSMAN: For now most that money is being used to relocate around 10,000 people that live close to the shore, but many say they'd rather sink than walk away from the shoreline they've called home for decades. On top of that, Latyr Fall says there's just not enough housing to move all of Guet Ndar's 30,000 residents.

L. FALL: (Through interpreter) This is the oldest quarter of Saint-Louis. Fishing makes up 90 percent of the economy here. So if the state really wants to help people here, then we need to find a different solution.

ROSMAN: Solutions like building seawalls or planting mangroves that absorb water are some alternatives being tested, but experts are struggling to find answers that can keep up with the pace of the destruction. For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in Saint-Louis, Senegal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Rosman
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