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.

 

 
   

 

 

 
 
Coastal erosion is undoubtedly related to rising sea level. As a consequence of the relative rise in the temperature worldwide, the icecaps are melting, bringing about a rise in the ocean level. In low altitude areas, like Saint Louis, these phenomena cause an overflowing called marine flooding.
— Abou Sy, climate change scientist and geographer
 
GRybus-ClimateChange-Web-6034.jpg
 
Developed countries are the major greenhouse gases issuers and the main cause of climate change. In developing countries, people discuss climate change more and more because they are directly affected by its impact. The population is mainly made up of farmers, herders and fishermen, and they are most vulnerable to climate change. Climate change is increasing poverty. It is not the only cause of the poverty, but it is accelerating it. Unfortunately, we don’t have the choice but to adapt to a phenomenon we didn’t cause.
— Abdou Sy, climate change scientist and geographer
 
Climate change is upsetting the balance of the seasons. However, even though some fishermen may feel reluctant to go out fishing when they notice that weather conditions are not suitable to catch a lot of fish, others go out anyway, since they don’t have another source of income. The seasons are no longer regular; the fishermen are experiencing this upside down weather day-in and day-out. Nowadays, they happen to go out under good weather conditions, but once they are in the middle of the ocean, strong winds and waves suddenly surround them, jeopardize their activities, and even put their lives in danger. In my opinion, climate change is to be blamed for this imbalance.
— Boly Sarr, retired fishing captain
 
In 2012-2013, the waves of the sea were very strong, strong enough to cross over the protective wall and reach up to my house. My house was flooded. I changed the gate to the other side of the home, and put sand bags on the sea facing side.
— Baye Sarr, fishing boat captain
ClimateChange.jpg
 
Over fifty years ago, we would walk about one kilometer to reach the ocean. Now, it has come near our housing area. Every year it advances, progressively and slowly, without us noticing it. Actually, that is due to rising sea level and coastal erosion from climate change, which is a phenomenon that has existed over many years. In Senegal, entire areas have been taken over by the sea. Only the scientists can explain this phenomenon. But I know that the sea level has been rising.
— Boly Sarr, retired fishing captain
Of course, I have seen homes falling into the ocean. We can cope with the climate conditions in this area because we were born and brought up here. We experienced all the changes that have happened over time. We cannot live outside the coastal area. If we relocate inland we won’t be able to adapt. We are just like fish in the water.
— Ndiawar, community leader and retired fisherman
 
GRybus-ClimateChange-Web-3781.jpg
 
 
Inland, there are the farmers. In Senegal the majority of the population is made up of farmers who depend on the rainy season for their activity. Consequently, the variation in precipitation cycles can disturb the schedule of many of their activities. And this can impact their production, and thus, their living conditions.
— -Ansoumana Bodian, geographer and scientist
 
 
From observation we can predict the nature of the coming season, using our own signs through trees, insects, the sight of some animals or birds, the sky’s color, its blankness, its murkiness. Years before, it rained well, but sometimes it can be irregular. Last season we experienced misfortune. It rained only two times, just two.
— Idda Ka, herder
Our grandfathers didn’t have any other activity, they didn’t need to go anywhere. They were just farmers. They used to have a good harvest to meet the needs of their families. They had decent lives. For our generation, it is different. We struggle to meet the needs of our families. When there is rain shortage, which happens very often, we go to towns in order to work there. I am a farmer, but I am also a driver. To cope with the rain shortage, I go to cities such as Saint Louis and Kaolack to work as a taxi driver. This allows me to earn some money to bring food for my family.
— Ibrahima Diop, farmer
 
 
Rain shortage causes reduction in water-streaming zones. In areas with rain shortage, we notice that the river is no longer full enough during the rainy season to flood into the ocean. And with rising sea level, we observe a contrary phenomenon: the sea flows inland. As a consequence, village wells and rice-growing areas become salty. This leads to productivity reduction and land abandonment, which negatively impacts living conditions of the local people.
— Ansoumana Bodian, geographer and scientist
Our life is cattle. What we live by is cattle and the rain. They are our only riches, and they are so valuable to us. It can be strange to others, but this is our way. We used to have a land with many trees, rain and blessing. Everything we needed could be found easily. We had many cows and much happiness. But today, we cannot even afford many cows, and we cannot find the means to feed them. The land is no longer that good. Every day the herders in my family bring the cattle to the river [roughly 20 miles].
— Idda Ka, herder
 
 
When there is a delay on the rainy season or rain shortage, we get together to pray. We go pray together at the mosque near the village water tap.
— Diarra Diop, farmer
 
This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost. As we humans are woven into the fabric of the natural world, its gifts are for us to savor. But the same fossil fuels that helped us achieve most of the prosperity we see today are the main cause of climate change. Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah—gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans. But our attitude to these gifts has been short-sighted, and we have abused them. What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy?
— Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change
 
 

This story was featured in CNN and at a presentation for the Pope's encyclical by the NRDC.