Plantain Island, 11 March 2024 - Plantain Island is one of the communities in Sierra Leone faced with daunting climate change challenges, which have resulted in the loss of substantial means of livelihood for the inhabitants of the Island. Rising sea levels, heavy rainfall, and violent weather storms have made it increasingly difficult for the residents to sustain their sustenance.

Adama Kabia, a 53-year-old resident of Plantain Island, is the chairlady and leader of a women's development group on the island. She has been eagerly waiting for the arrival of the visitors on the island. This day is significant for Adama and the island's people, as visitors have recently become increasingly rare. Their cries for help to save their island from climate disaster haven’t attracted much attention. Adama and her group are happy to have IOM and government officials from Freetown on the island, seeing it as a chance to open up about their challenges and hope for a solution.

Adama stands solemnly on the shore, gazing at the wreckage of her once beautiful life. It has been reduced to a heap of debris by the merciless waves of the sea that showed no mercy in their destructive path. Photo: IOM 2024/Bilal Kamara

Earlier this year, in 2024, a team from IOM, the Deputy Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and government officials visited Plantain Island. The primary purpose of the visit was to conduct a pilot project on Plantain Island to understand the reasons behind the disappearance of Plantain and Yelibuya Islands. These two islands, according to the findings of IOM, are currently facing an array of daunting challenges as a result of the impact of climate change. The effects of climate change have been far-reaching and devastating for these islands, from rising sea levels and increased frequency of extreme weather events to the erosion of coastlines and the loss of fragile ecosystems.

The project's objective is to gather empirical evidence on the state of marine parameters around the islands to find practical solutions to address the threats posed by climate change and environmental degradation to coastal and island communities. The project also aims to identify adaptation measures to cope with these threats. This visit by IOM and government officials aims to engage with the island residents, understand their challenges, and find solutions.

During a community engagement gathering organized by IOM, Adama Sesay addressed the issues faced by women and children on the island. Photo: IOM 2024/Bilal Kamara

The presence of the delegation reminds Adama of the past. She reminisces about when the island was a hub of commerce and tourism, and people from all over used to come for business and to see the slave pen. However, the island's popularity started to wane as rising sea levels made it increasingly isolated, and fewer visitors came.

The towns located on Plantain Island were once a thriving hub for agriculture and affordable seafood. However, with the sea level rising, the area is now at risk of disappearing. Schools, markets, and homes are gradually being submerged. To make matters worse, due to the increasing salinity of the groundwater, the community must import drinking water from another area. Adama is worried that the island may become uninhabitable if this trend continues.

The inhabitants of Plantain Island show determination to take action to save their homes from the imminent threat of climate change. Photo: IOM 2024/Bilal Kamara

There is a lack of official government records indicating the degree of sea-level increase in this area, but according to locals, the sea has advanced by over 400 meters in the last four decades. This has forced inhabitants to relocate to nearby towns, causing many to establish new communities inland.

Community school teacher Osman Kamara describes Plantain Island as a town with a rich history that used to have a population of around 6,000. However, due to severe erosion, a significant portion of the Island has been lost to the sea. This climate-induced disaster has significantly impacted the increase in internal migration, where many Island residents have been forced to leave and settle on the mainland. Consequently, the population has decreased drastically; about 400 people reside on the Island, and every year, the number of children attending the school decreases. The unforgiving sea threatens Plantain Island Community School’s very existence. The school building precariously stands at the mercy of erosion. "The only community school here on the island is at risk of being eroded by the sea," Osman warns.

Adama, who started as a farmer, recalls how the sea has taken over her farmland. Like many other women on the Island, she now relies on fishing as her only means of survival. "Through fishing, I managed to build a small house where I live with my children, but it didn't take long for the water to swallow up everything I worked so hard for. In her sad mood, "This island is home for us, and we have nowhere else to go," Adama recounted this ordeal in tears.

Upon arrival, the delegation was welcomed by the island's residents who shared their challenges and hopes for the island. Photo: IOM 2024/Bilal Kamara
Algalie Otis shares his experience of the visit by the Sierra Leone government and the IOM team to Plantin Island. Photo: IOM 2024/Bilal Kamara

Algalie Otis, a hardworking and ambitious man on the island, shares his story of loss and displacement with the visitors. The father of six has worked very hard to build his dream home on Plantain Island. He had worked tirelessly to elevate his status to that of a landlord, and his house was his pride and joy. However, his happiness was turned into despair after the violent waves destroyed his home. “I helplessly watch my house being destroyed by the sea,” he shrugs. “The destruction of my house leaves me with no choice but to migrate to another town.” Unlike Adama, who claimed to have nowhere to go, Algalie knew that the threat and destruction of the sea were too threatening to ignore. Forced to migrate, the 56-year-old man finds it hard to bear the pain of leaving the place he called home and adapting to a new life as a tenant in an unfamiliar town.

The government of Sierra Leone and IOM have committed to undertaking a scientific study to first understand the root causes of the island's disappearance. Photo: IOM 2024/Bilal Kamara

The destruction caused by the sea has significantly impacted the residents of Plantain Island, and IOM and the Government of Sierra Leone are seeking appropriate measures to address the situation. The Deputy Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Honourable Mima Sobba-Stephens, addressed the gathering and expressed the Government of Sierra Leone’s determination to collaborate with partners and the people to address the impact of climate change on the Island. Mrs. Sobba-Stephens stressed the urgent need to take action to protect our planet and vulnerable communities. She further advised the people to refrain from activities that contribute to the destruction of the Island, including deforestation, sand mining, and the erection of houses near the sea.

According to the latest Global assessment report of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR, 2022), the world faces a looming danger of climate-induced disasters such as flooding, storms, and tsunamis. The report highlights that by 2030, half of the world’s population will be exposed to these environmental hazards. The West and Central African coastal areas are among the regions that are particularly vulnerable to these dangers. These regions have been grappling with several environmental challenges, such as severe floods, land degradation, acute water shortage, and rapid coastal erosion, exacerbating the impact of climate-induced disasters. The report underscores the need for urgent action to mitigate these risks and build resilience among the populations in these vulnerable regions.

Despite the island's decline, Adama has always remained optimistic about its future. When she sees high-level delegations like these coming to the island, she feels a glimmer of hope that the island has not been forgotten. She believes the island still has much to offer and can once again become a popular destination for travelers. For Adama, Plantain Island is more than just a physical place. It represents her home and community; she wants nothing more than to see it thrive again. “When I see people like these coming to our Island, it gives me hope that we are not forgotten,” says Adama.


This story is written by Bilal Kamara, Media and Communication Assistant, IOM Sierra Leone.

SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals
SDG 13 - Climate Action