It’s already happening.
The fishermen in the bustling fishing community Guet Ndar once dragged their boats for an hour across the sand before reaching the sea. Now the ocean laps at their front door, and eats their homes in giant, crumbling gulps. Inland, in a little village called Takhembeut, the herders and farmers once relied on the rainy season’s punctuality, the timely arrival of just enough water to sustain crop and cattle.
The UN recognized Saint Louis, called Ndar by locals, as being the city most threatened by climate change in Africa. At the Northernmost point of Senegal, Ndar hugs the Sahara and hovers on the edge of the Arabic and African worlds. The locals are knowledgeable about climate: being from the desert means paying close attention to the rains and to the seas. Even the younger workers have been in the fields or on the seas for many years, doing the work of their fathers or grandmothers who taught them to pay attention, notice change, and anticipate what comes next.
The last few years have brought variables greater than anyone anticipated. Winds and waters have changed, causing coastal erosion along Senegal’s coast, made worse in Ndar by a botched canal project intended to slow the rising water. The rainy season is shorter and more erratic. The herders can no longer grow crops for their animals, and now shake seed pods from the trees to sustain their shrinking herds. The farmers grow just enough food for their families, and many have become the first in their lineage to supplement their work with odd jobs in the city.
The Senegalese government is paying attention. They are building housing for the fishermen who are losing their homes to the sea. They are providing municipal water, enough to drink and bathe in, for the families who live inland. But this is not a problem caused by the Senegalese, it’s a problem larger than a people or a country. It is a problem caused by an anemic global response to climate change. It is caused by larger countries making policy and industrial decisions that impact global health. For those who rely directly on natural resources for survival, like the majority of Senegalese people, climate change will be a calamitous test and a catalyst for poverty worldwide.
This story was featured in CNN and at a presentation for the Pope's encyclical by the NRDC.