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Ondo state community Ayetoro’s fight against the rising Sea: A community on the brink

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The coastal Nigerian community of Ayetoro, once nicknamed “Happy City” and envisioned as a Christian utopia, now struggles against the relentless encroachment of the Atlantic Ocean.

Buildings have been swallowed by the sea, leaving behind a landscape of submerged timber and shattered foundations. Waves now break against abandoned electrical poles, a stark reminder of the community’s vulnerability.

For years, Ayetoro’s residents have prayed for relief from the rising sea, but they know that faith alone cannot save their homes.

Youth leader Thompson Akingboye notes that prayers against the sea’s advance are “on the lips of everybody” in the church every Sunday, but acknowledges the need for tangible solutions.

The community has suffered significant losses, with thousands fleeing and those remaining watching their livelihoods disappear. Stephen Tunlese, who lost his clothing shop to the sea, now repairs canoes.

“I will stay in Ayetoro because this is my father’s land, this is heritage land,” he says, despite the challenges.

The Mahin mud coast, where Ayetoro is situated, has lost over 10 square kilometers to the ocean in the past three decades. The changes have accelerated recently, with the community sinking into the sea, leading to repeated displacements of households and businesses.

Researchers point to underwater oil drilling, deforestation of mangroves, and ocean wave erosion as primary contributors to Ayetoro’s demise.

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The cost of coastal degradation in Nigeria is enormous. A 2020 World Bank report estimated it at $9.7 billion for three other coastal states, highlighting the significant impact of erosion, flooding, mangrove loss, and pollution.

Yet, despite these dramatic losses, Nigeria’s response has been insufficient, hampered by corruption and mismanagement.

The Ondo state government recently pledged to find “lasting solutions” to Ayetoro’s plight, but residents remain skeptical. Similar promises have been made before with no tangible results.

The Niger Delta Development Commission’s shoreline protection project, announced two decades ago, remains “ongoing” with no visible progress.

As Ayetoro continues to slip away, its residents face not just the loss of land, but also their socio-cultural and religious identity. Burial grounds have been washed away, and families are cramped into ever-smaller living spaces.

Arowolo Mofeoluwa, a retired civil servant, recalls the community’s former joy and now mourns its gradual destruction.

Marine geologist Olusegun Dada stresses the need for an environmental survey to understand the causes of the erosion fully. However, such efforts have been in vain. As the sea continues to claim Ayetoro, the community’s hope for effective intervention diminishes.

“Help will come one day, we believe,” says youth leader Akingboye, expressing a cautious optimism that the long-promised aid will eventually materialize.

Until then, Ayetoro’s remaining residents can only watch and wait as their “Happy City” continues to sink. ~ With agency report

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