We Were Once Three Miles from the Sea

Nyani Quarmyne

2010 - 2011

Coastal and riverine erosion are not new phenomena on the Ghana coast. However, the pace of change has accelerated drastically in recent years, sweeping away homes and livelihoods and, according to some experts, foreshadowing the fate of many of West Africa’s coastal capitals as sea levels continue to rise.

I first visited Totope, a small fishing village 100km east of Ghana’s capital, Accra, in 2004. At the “durbar” or community gathering I attended there was no talk of climate change, coastal erosion or the threat of being swallowed by the sea – villagers spoke of clean drinking water as their most pressing need. When I returned five years later pipe-borne water had arrived, but the village had all but disappeared beneath the waves. An elder told me, “We were once three miles from the sea.”

In Totope, as in many similar communities in the vicinity of the Volta River estuary where these photographs were taken, residents literally have nowhere to go, finding themselves trapped between lagoons or privately held land and the oncoming sea.

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  • Anikor Adjawutor and Miyorhokpor Anikor's home on the island of Azizakpe in the Volta estuary has been destroyed by rising waters. It is in a location that was once more than 100m from the water's edge, but that now floods monthly.

  • Seven year-old Collins Kusietey in the remains of a house destroyed by the encroaching sea in Totope, Ghana.

  • A family stands in a flooded thoroughfare in the village of Azizanya, near Ada, Ghana on 2 April 2010. The village floods with filth-laden water every two weeks when tides are highest.

  • Numour Puplampo of Totope has been forced to abandon his home as it is has been buried by the sea.

  • Hannah Abayateye and her son, Junior, seated atop all that the sea has left of their traditional family home in the village of Akplabanya in Ghana. While the seaward side of the village is being washed away, villagers are unable to move further inland as their retreat is blocked by a lagoon.

  • Tekpe Hongah, a resident of Totope, a fishing village near Ada, Ghana, atop his home which is rapidly disappearing beneath the sand as the sea encroaches on the village. Fearful that the building might collapse at any time, he has been forced to evacuate his home and move in with relatives.

  • The fishing village of Totope, near Ada, Ghana, is disappearing as the rising sea and worsening coastal erosion bury villagers' homes in sand. Trapped between the sea and a lagoon, the village has nowhere to go. An elder told me, "We were once three miles from the sea."

  • “Though you sweep the hut in the sand, the sand will not disappear.” - Proverb

    Every morning the women of Totope sweep the beach and bury the rubbish that has been swept down the coast overnight from the cities of Accra and Tema. As the sea continues to advance on the village it periodically buries homes in sand and garbage.

  • Torgborfio Obodai, a schoolboy from Totope, a fishing village near Ada, Ghana, stands by a house that is being claimed by the sea. When the ravages of the sea are at their worst, he is unable to walk the short distance to school for fear of being swept out into the ocean.

  • Paulina Dzimado's traditional family home in Lolonyakope near Ada, Ghana has been destroyed by the rising sea. Having retreated from the sea previously, villagers can retreat no further as they are hemmed in by privately owned land.