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Global warming presents itself as Kenyan cities fiercest foe.

13 Jul 2010

The Irish Times

MOMBASSA LETTER: Having withstood many savage attacks and the attritions of time, one urban zone is set to be swamped by rising sea.

MOMBASA IS used to being on the defensive.

Fought over by the Arabs and Portuguese, and eventually the British, the island city's sun-bleached Fort Jesus has witnessed a battle or two since it was built on the orders of King Philip of Spain in 1593.

But Kenya's second-largest city, like the rest of East Africa, is now facing an adversary it might have little chance of beating: global warming.

According to a report released last year, rising sea levels brought about by global warming could wash through the city's narrow streets in 20 years, destroying the rising minarets that have looked out on to the Indian Ocean for centuries.

The report from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, Adapting Cities to Climate Change , warns that unless urgent measures are taken, a sea-level rise of just 0.3m will see 17 per cent of Mombasa (4,600 hectares) submerged.

Salt will make its way into the city's water supply, making it undrinkable, while excess salinity in the soil will destroy the agricultural sector in the region.

"Sandy beaches and other features, including historical and cultural monuments such as Fort Jesus, several beach hotels, industries, the ship-docking ports and human settlements could be negatively affected by sea-level rise," says the report.

For a city that was first marked down on a map by Ptolemy in 150AD, it seems almost unthinkable.

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