By Gemma Solés
Lagos is one of the world’s largest coastal megacities and the most populous city in Africa. The financial capital and main port of the continent’s western region, it is considered a high risk area for coastal and urban flooding due to climate change and sea level rise, aggravated by the lack of adequate drainage.
Being the seventh fastest-growing metropolis in the world, it is inhabited by a population of about 21 million people, which is estimated to gallop toward 25 million by 2020. If growth rates continue, by 2050 Lagos will rank as the second most populous city in the world. With this in mind, there is no doubt that the state apparatus is facing serious challenges in ensuring the safety of the population under future climate change conditions as well as maintaining the economic activity generated in the bustling Nigerian city.
With the initial goal of combating the effects of climate change in Lagos, in 2003 a retaining wall was designed to stop the unbeatable erosion of shoreline due to sea level rise, which government has warned threatens residents. This has been dubbed the ‘Great Wall of Lagos.’
The ‘Great Wall’ is a megastructure of concrete and stone that when complete will span over 8 km according to developers. It is intended to fortify the city against rising sea levels, raging storms and even the devastation from a possible tsunami. It’s a feat of advanced engineering. Nevertheless, the question is: who will this super coastal wall protect? We can glimpse an answer if we look beyond the wall to the privatised city that will be built by the state government and South Energyx Nigeria Limited inside of it: Eko Atlantic.
Eko Atlantic, currently under construction, will be an urban mega-project similar in size to Manhattan. It has been called the “African Dubai.” A clean and eco-friendly city. A metropolis with prosperous business and luxurious residential districts, offices, malls, voluptuous hotels, shiny skyscrapers and leisure facilities distributed across six zones. Banks, insurance companies and oil and gas multinationals will also be there. Likewise, the Nigerian Stock Exchange has already confirmed that it will establish a branch in the business area, which gives an idea of how Nigeria is betting on Eko Atlantic as a new and wealthy futuristic version of Lagos. A refuge-island for climate change, or simply, as some have said, an apparatus for ‘climate apartheid.’
This artificial island of 10 square kilometres, located on Victoria Island, aims to become the commercial and financial epicenter of West Africa in 2020. Perhaps the dream that drove the construction of the Great Wall to protect Lagos from sea level rise is being hijacked to suit the elite?
Those wanting to own commercial or residential property at Eko Atlantic will need to fork out between $1000 and $2000 per square meter. The city will be home to just 250,000 people — a number that represents just over 1% of the total population of Lagos– and will employ 150,000 workers, who may not live in the island.
Eko Atlantic has achieved funding from a consortium of banks, including First Bank, First City Monument Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank. It is a multi-billion dollar private investment project, which has no public investment. However, the government has sold the land to build this mega-structure. But, is it fair to sell land to private property developers when there is a big deficit of affordable housing in Lagos?
The poor in Lagos face harsh treatment. Two-thirds of Lagos’ residents live in the informal settlements and neighborhoods or slums that are scattered around the city. They can be evicted at any time. Organizations like Amnesty International and the Bank on Human Rights have denounced the government’s behavior on evictions, noting the serious danger to the local population of overcrowding in impoverished housing spaces.
It seems that the poor can not compete with big business in any way. The ‘Great Wall’ is being built to mitigate the effects of climate change. But along with it yet another wall that separates the rich from poor is being built.
This article first appeared on Urban Africa on 25 September 2014
Gemma Solés i Coll holds an M.A. in Social Science of Development South of the Sahara (URV) and graduated in Philosophy (UB). She specializes in artistic and cultural trends and urban dynamics in Africa. She serves as chief editor for the music and performing arts section of Spanish online magazine WIRIKO, of which she is the founder.
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