As the tide rises, the Ghanaian village of Fuvemeh quickly becomes flooded.

The Waves Will Take Us Away

Climate change is destroying thousands of miles of West Africa's coastline. It's only a matter of time before it knocks out the region's economy, too.

Photographs by Matilde Gattoni

The waves crept farther inland each year. First they swallowed the beach, then the mangroves and the coconuts, until finally they washed away the village, one brick dwelling at a time. It is the story of thousands of communities along the western coast of sub-Saharan Africa, stretching more than 4,000 miles from Mauritania to Cameroon. Rising sea levels — the result of global warming — are causing unprecedented erosion. In places like Agbavi, a beach town on the outskirts of the Togolese capital of Lomé, more than 100 feet of coastline is disappearing each year. Livelihoods and cultural heritage are disappearing as well, leaving behind communities beset with drugs and crime. In a region where nearly a third of population lives along the coastline, generating more than half of total GDP, rising sea levels represent an existential threat. Yet aside from temporary fixes like seawalls and groins, there is no plan to address it.

Read the companion piece on the devastating effects of climate change on the region "West Africa Is Being Swallowed by the Sea" by Matteo Fagotto.

A young boy sails back home on a piece of wood after the high tide has flooded the village of Fuvemeh in Ghana.

Coastal erosion has recently destroyed part of the house of fisherman David Buabasah in the village of Fuvemeh, Ghana.


Adjo Setor, 25, left, and Komian Setor, 27, in their house on the coastline of Agbavi in Togo.

During the high tide, the ocean level reaches the same level as the land, causing regular floods in the Ghanaian village of Fuvemeh.

A local woman sand-mines on a beach in Togo.

Although the groins and sea defense wall are now protecting the city of Blekusu in Ghana from erosion, they prevent sediments from reaching the coastline.

Young villagers stand on a traditional fishing boat in Blekusu, Ghana.

The cutting down of mangrove trees for firewood has removed one of the most effective natural tools for protecting the coast of Ghana from erosion.

A fishing boat brought ashore by a strong high tide lies stranded on the shoreline near Cotonou, in Benin.

People gather for Sunday Mass at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Blekusu, Ghana.

The last man living on the Ghanaian island of Kpogbor stands where he built a makeshift sea defense wall in order to protect what is left of his house from the rising sea level.