The photographs shown here were taken during the course of several UNEP missions to Côte d’Ivoire to undertake a Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment.

These photos represent both the best and the worst of the environmental situation in Côte d’Ivoire. The forests in Côte d’Ivoire, for example, contain exceptionally diverse habitats rich in plant species and support one of the highest diversities of mammals in the world. However these forests are among some of the most threatened on earth due to rampant deforestation. Through these photos you will see for yourself the threats posed to these forests by illegal and uncontrolled timber exploitation and agricultural expansion. You will see, among other things, the current situation in parts of the Ébrié lagoon, where pollution is acute, and the numerous environmental problems that Abidjan is facing.

Côte d’Ivoire, like all countries, is having to deal with numerous environmental problems with complex causes. Measures to deal with these issues will have to be unprecedented, visionary and carried out on a large scale. UNEP is committed to supporting Côte d’Ivoire achieve these goals and help the country on the path towards sustainable development.

We hope that this photo essay both touches and informs you.

Primary forest in Côte d’Ivoire

Forests in Côte d’Ivoire are important not only locally and regionally, but also globally. Locally, forests provide both direct benefits to the community, such as timber and non-timber forest products, and indirect benefits, such as climate regulation and water security. As Côte d’Ivoire’s forests have high biodiversity value with many endemic species, these forests also have global significance.

Forested and deforested land in Côte d’Ivoire

While Côte d’Ivoire is home to some spectacular forests, deforestation is substantial and widespread. Forests came under numerous different pressures during the crisis, including from illegal logging on a commercial scale, legal industrial exploitation without supervision, conversion of forested land for agriculture, artisanal mining, and poaching of wildlife.

Deforestation and cultivation of forested land in Côte d’Ivoire

Dense primary forest has been largely replaced by a patchwork of secondary forests, cash-crop plantations, timber plantations, food crops, and fallows. The forest cover of Côte d’Ivoire now forms just 3 per cent of the national territory and continues to decrease rapidly. If the current trend is not slowed, halted and then reversed, in the near future the country’s forests will no longer be sufficient to fulfil their ecosystem or economic functions.

Deforestation due to agriculture

Agricultural expansion is a key factor compromising forest cover. In general, Ivorian farmers still use slash and burn techniques to clear land for agriculture. This practice is destructive, lays waste to large amounts of land, and undermines reforestation efforts. New methods, such as agroforestry techniques, should be used to ensure the long-term sustainability of the agricultural system and help conserve not only the forest but also the soil.

Forests in Côte d’Ivoire continue to be under threat

The protection of the remaining forests in Côte d’Ivoire and the restoration of forest cover should be a priority. The damage will not be reversed by a few well-intentioned actions at local level. Rather, the government needs to examine the totality of forestry and protected areas, considering all the ecological, agricultural, industrial, socioeconomic, and security factors that are involved.

Côte d’Ivoire’s coastline

Côte d’Ivoire is home to a spectacular coastline, stretching over 500km and home to half of the country’s population and a significant proportion of its economy. However, the coastline is increasingly at risk from an oil spill, as oil production in the region, and offshore drilling in particular, are growing exponentially.

A beach in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire is particularly vulnerable to an oil spill as its coastline lies adjacent to the route along which ships commonly carry stolen or bunkered oil to their destinations. Such ships are more likely to cause spillage than one regulated by law. Additional risk is also anticipated as the Ivorian economy recovers and the Port of Abidjan becomes busier with guest tankers or stored oil.

Fishermen in Côte d’Ivoire

An oil spill on the coastline could have a crippling effect on the national economy by impacting tourism, fishing in the coastal waters and lagoons, port activities in Abidjan, and by affecting the communities that live on the beaches and the shores of the lagoons.

Man walking along one of Côte d’Ivoire’s spectacular beaches

While the risk of a major oil spill and the resources exposed to it have increased over the past decade in Côte d’Ivoire, the capacity to deal with one has not. On the contrary, the capacity has been eroded. Rebuilding national capacity for oil-spill response must therefore be one of the priorities of the National Committee for Disaster Management.

Urban expansion in Abidjan

The population of Abidjan has been expanding since independence in 1960, a process rapidly accelerated by the crisis. At the same time, also due to conflict, investment in urban infrastructure could not keep up, leading to major environmental issues in the city.

Akouédo landfill site

One of Abidjan’s key environmental issues is solid waste management. The total amount of waste collected in Abidjan is currently around 3,000 tons per day. Most of the areas around the city have waste collection services, except those difficult to access. In areas with many valleys and hollows, people routinely throw their waste into the valley even when waste containers are available. During the rainy season that waste is then swept away to Ébrié Lagoon.

Fires in the Akouédo landfill site

Currently, the main destination for waste collected in Abidjan is Akouédo dump. This is an old fashioned dump site with no impermeable lining at the bottom, no draining and treatment of leachate, and no gas collection and recovery. The leachate is most likely flowing into the Ébrié Lagoon and to the aquifer below it, but so far there have been no systematic studies to confirm it.

The port of Abidjan

Neither of the international ports at Abidjan or San Pedro has facilities to accept hazardous waste, however both accept non-hazardous solid waste from ships. The waste is collected by private companies and transported to the local dumping site. In reality, the collection companies also accept hazardous wastes, as current controls are insufficient to prevent this practice.

Strip of land between Ébrié Lagoon and the coastline of Côte d’Ivoire

Ébrié Lagoon is the biggest lagoon system in West Africa. The lagoon extends for approximately 150km in an east-west direction; its surface is approximately 550km2, and there is an additional 200km2 of adjacent mangrove swamps and wetland.

Fishing boats lie on the shores of the Ébrié Lagoon

Historically, the Ébrié Lagoon provided the foundation for Abidjan’s social and economic development. Early settlers in the area were fishermen, and fishing remains an important livelihood in the region.

Ébrié Lagoon and the city of Abidjan

Ébrié Lagoon, which lies adjacent to the city of Abidjan, is one of the most important water resources in Côte d’Ivoire. However, not only has the city of Abidjan expanded around the lagoon, but it has also expanded into it.

Ébrié Lagoon is heavily polluted in places

Ébrié Lagoon is the main recipient of urban wastes, both solid and liquid, from Abidjan. There is evidence of heavy metal and pesticide pollution in the fish in the lagoon, which needs to be addressed as a matter of priority to better protect the health of the community.

Urban expansion around Ébrié Lagoon

The environmental problems in Ébrié Lagoon are a consequence of the socioeconomic situation in the surrounding areas. Efforts to address pollution must therefore consider the broader environment near the lagoon.

Large-scale industrial mining in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire has huge potential for mining. The country is situated on the West African Birimian Greenstone Belt, a massive mineral and gold-rich geological formation. Côte d’Ivoire is home to both industrial and artisanal mining. Establishing cooperation between the two could help to improve environmental management in the mining industry.

Artisanal mining in Côte d’Ivoire

Industrial mines could offer technical assistance to artisanal mines in order to promote sustainable practices. Artisanal mining operations are undertaken without any formal training for the miners and no official oversight. This means that environmental impacts occur in the form of deforestation, water pollution, and chemical contamination. The primary concern, however, is for the health of those engaged in the mining activities.

Comoé National Park

Comoé National Park, situated in the northeast of Côte d’Ivoire, is by far the largest park in the country at 11,500 km2. It constitutes one of the largest protected areas in West Africa. Problems of poaching and overgrazing were greatly exacerbated by the crisis, when the park was left without management. If the remaining animals and their habitats can be kept safe, their populations may yet recover.

Herding cattle

Pastoralist farmers have caused significant damage in Comoé national park, as seasonal incursions by herds of cattle intensified with the crisis. Herders, each with 100-200 heads of cattle, remained in the park for several weeks, some even establishing settlements for up to three years. Uncontrolled grazing could be restricted by creating a transhumance corridor for cattle during the dry season and by encouraging herders to find alternative grazing areas for cattle during this period.

Environmental degradation in Côte d’Ivoire

While there are a number of very serious challenges to Côte d’Ivoire’s environmental sustainability there is also some cause for hope. With a concerted and coordinated effort the unsustainable growth of Abidjan could be reversed, Ébrié Lagoon could be established as an engine of economic revival in Abidjan, and large-scale reforestation could halt forest degradation.

Read more about the challenges and opportunities for the environment in Côte d’Ivoire

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