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African Heritage sites under threats from rising seas

On the shores of North Africa, ancient cities have stood for millennia. The columns of Carthage, in modern-day Tunisia, are a reminder of the once bustling Phoenician and Roman port, and along the coast in what’s now Libya, lie the majestic ruins of Sabratha’s Roman amphitheater close — perhaps too close — to the sea.
Africa’s iconic natural sites date back even further, such as the ancient coral reef of the Seychelles’ Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean, thought to be around 125,000 years old.
But extreme weather events and rising sea levels mean that all three — and around 190 other spectacular heritage sites that line Africa’s coasts — will be at risk of severe flooding and erosion in the next 30 years, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Sea levels have been rising at a faster rate over the past three decades compared to the 20th century, the research says, and climate change hazards such as floods, heatwaves and wildfires are becoming more common.
It found that 56 sites are currently in danger if a “once in a century” flood struck, and that by 2050 — if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory — this number could more than triple to 198 sites.
“There is a local value, an international value, an economic value … and an intrinsic value (to these heritage sites),” Nicholas Simpson, an author of the study and postdoctoral research fellow at the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, tells CNN. “There are some monuments and sites and spaces that we don’t want lost for the next generation.”
Simpson believes the findings serve as an important wake-up call to increase climate adaptation measures and funding across the continent. “There’s an important message of loss and damage from climate change to heritage, which we hope will mobilize greater intent (and) action,” he says.
This is particularly pertinent in Africa, where the links between climate risk and heritage have been mostly ignored, says Simpson. Past scientific research has identified cultural sites endangered by climate change in the Mediterranean, Europe and North America, but this is the first continent-wide assessment of Africa.
“(The link between) climate change and heritage in Africa is gravely under-researched, and compared to other continents, we know very little,” he says, adding that a 2021 study found that between 1990 and 2019, research on Africa received just 3.8% of climate-related global research funding.
In this latest study, Simpson and his colleagues mapped out a total of 284 heritage sites that are recognized or under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, in the 39 countries that comprise the African coast.
They overlaid this geographic data with a highly intricate model projecting sea level rise and global warming levels under both a moderate and high emission scenario. The moderate scenario assumes global greenhouse gas emissions will stabilize before the end of the century, while in the high emission scenario — sometimes referred to as “business as usual” — they continue to rise, consistent with the current global pace, until 2100.
From there, the researchers calculated the likely percentage area of the site exposed to a “once-in-a-century” extreme coastal flooding event.
Source: CNN

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