Overview

With the help of a “Documenting Human Migrations” education grant from National Geographic, Climate Refugee Stories is a multimedia narrative, public education, and archiving project that documents stories of people around the world displaced by the impacts of climate change and a global hardening of borders, broadly defined. The project is global in scope but focuses on specific regions, with a large team of project collaborators filming and gathering stories from US-Mexico border, Central America, Bangladesh, India, Ghana, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. Supplemented by a #ClimateMigrationSyllabus, high school curriculum, and community discussion toolkit, the project is designed to engage students, non-governmental organizations, and affected communities in questions of who are “climate refugees”, the historical origins of climate change’s disparate impacts, and how communities are responding to a convergence of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Climate Refugee Stories employs mixed methods of participatory action research, oral history, filmmaking, archiving, and co-curricular development to invite storytellers, students, and audiences to debate and define “climate refugees” for themselves in order to reveal the historical, political, economic, and environmental causes of global inequality and displacement, to recognize community resilience, and to provide tools for allying movements for social and environmental justice. We are in the process of compiling all of the interviews and editing them into episodes telling individual stories of climate-induced displacement. Concurrently, we are developing discussion and curriculum materials to publish on the project’s website to engage students and community members in the storytelling project. Our estimated completion date is Spring 2021 and we plan to commence outreach at that time.

Ghana

As part of the Climate Refugee Stories project, NED Africa is producing an ethnographic film that captures stories of return migrants and coastal and island communities impacted by rising sea levels along Ghana’s coast which covers a distance of over 300 miles and is home to 5 million residents.

With our film, we are documenting stories of individuals and communities fighting erosion and flooding and experiencing displacement as a result of climate-related stressors—particularly rising sea levels—along Ghana’s east and west coasts, including island communities on the Volta River, Ghana’s main river system. Our participants also include deportees and other migrants who have returned to Ghana, mostly to the west coast, after such displacement. The film also features NED Africa’s work to establish new green industries in Ghana which support internally displaced persons and return migrants and discourage undocumented emigration by providing sustainable livelihoods.

We aim to use film and storytelling to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on coastal communities and of ways to mitigate it and slow global warming. We also aim to highlight the dangers faced by climate refugees who feel forced—due to homelessness, hunger, and unemployment brought on by displacement–to immigrate to other countries without documentation and the vulnerabilities they face upon return to Ghana in order to educate other would-be migrants and discourage undocumented emigration.

Flag-map_of_Ghana

A photo of a doorway looking out onto the sea, taken from inside a house that had been partially buried in sand as a result of encroachment from the sea on Azizakpe Island, one of locations we visited for this project. (Credit: NED Africa)

Findings and Stories

Overall, we found that, over the last 30 years, many coastal and island communities have lost vast lands to the sea which has broken down and wash away dozens of their homes. An even greater number of houses have been buried in the sand. As the sea moves closer ashore, it sweeps lots of sand inshore that has drowned coastal and island homes, rendering them inhabitable and forcing residents to relocate inland, yet many do not have the resources to do so. Furthermore, return migrants face challenges with economic reincorporation as they struggle to find work and housing.

The same house depicted in the previous photo, now looking into the doorway from outside. The house, now abandoned and inhabitable, is filled with sand. (Credit: NED Africa)

We collected our first set of stories on the island of Azizakpe, a 1.75-mile long estuary island which is closest to the “mouth” of the estuary, where the Volta River and Gulf of Guinea meet in eastern Ghana. With a population of 400 residents, Azizakpe is one of more than 50 inhabited islands on the Volta River.

An arial view of Azizakpe Island. The island is marked with a small white circle at the top. You can see that it is the island closest to the sea and thus most vulnerable to rising sea levels. Just west of the island is the town of Ada Foah, on the mainland. (Credit: Google Maps)

Another arial view but zoomed out to give a sense of its location in relation to other parts of the country. You can see that the island is pretty far up the eastern coastline, about 70 miles, from Accra, the capital. (Credit: Google Maps)

Like many of the islands on the Volta River, Azizakpe is experiencing dramatic flooding due to rising sea levels.

The flooding has been worsened by the building of an artificial sand barrier for the construction of luxury vacation homes and resorts for which sand around the island has been mined, collapsing the island’s own natural sea defense.

Residents report that Azizakpe was once a much larger island but over time, an entire kilometer of the island was swallowed up by the sea, along with more than 60 homes and a church and most islanders are looking to relocate to the mainland but do not have the resources to do so.

While some of the displaced islanders have friends and family on the mainland with whom they can stay, many find themselves with nowhere to go and no means to pay for the high rents they face in places like Ada Foah.

This photo, of a fishing boat on the shore of the island surrounded by coconut trees and calm water in the background, captures the beauty and tranquity of the island that exist in spite of the current crisis. (Credit: NED Africa)

The same house depicted above, taken from a few feet away so you can see clearly that the house is buried in at least several feet of sand. (Credit: NED Africa)

As one resident explained to us, “People came in and mined the sand from part of our island’s bed. It’s the reason why the riverbed has collapsed so quickly—that sand forms the bed that the island is sitting on. They’ve used the sand to build that artificial barrier over there, where a hotel now sits.”

Two men from the island on the shore facing the sea, one gesturing towards the sea, where the artificial barrier has been built with Azizakpe’s sand. (Credit: NED Africa)

A row of sand bags which have been placed on the shores of Azizakpe, where sand has been mined, to reinforce the island and prevent further erosion. Across the water you can see the artificial barrier that was built for the construction of luxury resorts and hotels. (Credit: NED Africa)

Azizakpe’s sub-chief told us, “you can be cooking…outside but when the high tide comes, you must quickly gather your things or you’ll get carried away. And it comes so fast, and so silently, it can catch you.”

One of our team members, Azariah Logo, Founder and CEO of NED Africa, interviewing Azizakpe’s sub-chief in Ewe, one of several local dialects spoken on the island, as other residents sat and listened. (Credit: NED Africa)

Azizakpe’s sub-chief recounting the challenges his community faces due to flooding. (Credit: NED Africa)

Part of Azizakpe’s coastline, dotted by coconut trees and houses that were once much further inland as well as numerous coconut trees that have fallen as the soil beneath them has been eroded by the sea. (Credit: NED Africa)

The stumps of coconut trees killed by erosion. (Credit: NED Africa)

Several coconut trees on the shore that are still standing but with exposed roots, the soil washed away. In time, they too will fall. (Credit: NED Africa)

Most islanders live on fishing, shrimping, pig rearing and oil processing from the island’s abundant coconut trees. Residents reported that, because of the soil’s high salt content due to its proximity to the sea, it is impossible to farm or even maintain a garden on the island.

Rows of staked shrimping cages, constructed out of bamboo. (Credit: NED Africa)

A litter of pigs in their wooden pen, which are reared and sold for their meat on the mainland. (Credit: NED Africa)

One woman resident told us: “I also have pigs…Right now, I’m old, I’m so tired, I’m not able to take care of them very well. I’m a widow, my husband is dead. Food to eat, I don’t have it. I am basically starving as you look at me…Previously when I was rearing, I had 10 pigs. Now we are buying the food, some of the food to supplement, from shops and the island and it’s very expensive.”

The woman who shared this story is depicted in this photo. She is standing and speaking while a small group of residents sit in plastic chairs around her and listen under shade provided by thatch. (Credit: NED Africa)

Typical scene of a fishing village: a small fishing canoe pulled up on the shore of Azizakpe Island. (Credit: NED Africa)

Typical scene of a fishing village: Green plastic fishing nets and other fishing equipment are gathered after a day’s catch on Azizakpe Island. (Credit: NED Africa)

Two men from Azizakpe in a motorized fishing boat, the one that carried the NED Africa team to and from Azizakpe Island. (Credit: NED Africa)

NED Africa is Supporting Climate Refugees

with these two projects