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Can the Gambia turn the tide to save its shrinking beaches? | Global development

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When Saikou Demba was a young man starting out in the hospitality business, he opened a little hotel on the Gambian coast called the Leybato and ran a beach bar on the wide expanse of golden sand. The hotel is still there, a relaxed spot where guests can lie in hammocks beneath swaying palm trees and stroll along shell-studded pathways. But the beach bar is not. At high tide, Demba reckons it would be about five or six metres into the sea.

“The first year the tide came in high but it was OK,” he says. “The second year, the tide came in high but it was OK. The third year, I came down one day and it [the bar] wasn’t there: half of it went into the sea.”

The owner of the Leybato hotel, Saikou Demba
Leybato hotel owner Saikou Demba has watched the Gambia’s coastline crumble over the years. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

That was in the 1980s, before most people had even heard of the greenhouse effect.

But to Demba, 71, and many others like him, it was obvious even then that things were changing. The sea was coming in further and further every year, and the coastline, bit by bit, was crumbling.

Now, the Leybato has lost not only its beach bar but, at high tide, its beach: the sea comes right up to the bottom of the terrace and splashes over the top. The erosion of the coastline is clearly visible in the cracked paving stones and exposed roots of the coconut trees. The sea grass that used to carpet the ocean floor has gone.

“Those grasses were protecting the sea, but there are no more now,” says Demba. “I also used to see turtles, big turtles. Now, none. We are in a very sad situation.”

All along the 50-mile coastline of the Gambia, Africa’s smallest mainland country, hotels and guesthouses are facing similar pressures. And, in a developing country where tourism makes up about 20% of GDP and employs tens of thousands of people, it could not be more important that they withstand them.

“We have already learned the lesson from Covid-19. Tourism is very, very important [for the country],” says Alpha Saine, front-office manager of the Kairaba hotel, one of the two most luxurious in the country.

After a prolonged absence during the pandemic, European tourists are starting to return to the Gambia, even if numbers appear significantly down. Saine hopes Covid soon “becomes history”.

Erosion has exposed tree roots and the crumbling coastline is affecting the terrace of the Leybato hotel in Fajara.
Erosion has exposed tree roots and the crumbling coastline is getting closer to the terrace of the Leybato hotel. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

The threat posed to the industry by the climate crisis, however, is more formidable in the long term, and no one appears to have found a solution that works for all.

On the beaches of the Kairaba and Senegambia hotels, the beating heart of the Gambia’s “smiling coast” tourism industry, a barrier of rocks has been laid that runs for several hundred metres along the shoreline, stopping the waves from encroaching too far. When the tide is low the beach is still big and, in the age of Covid, gloriously empty – but at high tide it is a narrow strip of sand.

That is not enough to put most people off. Taking a stroll in the sunshine with the waves lapping around her feet, Ann Eady – on her 15th Gambian holiday – says the barrier doesn’t bother her at all. “They’ve got to maintain the beauty they’ve got. It would be a shame for it to go,” says Eady, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

The rocks are effective, but Lamin Komma, head of coastal and marine environment at the Gambia’s National Environment Agency, is clear about the project’s limitations. “You cannot protect the entire coast with rocks. You cannot do that,” he says.

Komma, who is developing a coastal management plan for the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, wants the country to focus more on boosting its natural defences, for example, planting coconut trees and mangroves, which can help keep sand in place and absorb carbon in the process.

The rocky barrier on Senegambia beach
The rocky barrier on Senegambia beach will hold back erosion for a time but natural defences, such as planting coconut trees and mangroves, are a longer-term solution. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

“Putting [in] hard structures, yes, it’s fine, but it’s very expensive and it only serves maybe a period of time,” Komma says. The other thing that needs to change is the country’s expectation that donor partners will foot the bill, he adds. “We cannot keep on relying on donors. We have to have mechanisms in place,” he says.

Over at the Leybato, where Demba breaks off from an afternoon feast of watermelon to talk to the Guardian, he seems in tune with this mindset. Not for him the rock barriers, or sea walls. “I have my plan: planting coconut trees,” he says. He has already planted dozens, and there are more to come.

But although hopeful and ambitious, Demba is also angry that for more than three decades he has been seeing the climate crisis coming and nothing has been done to stop it.

“I don’t think they’re listening to us,” he says, standing beside his crumbling terrace, referring to the political leaders meeting last week at Cop26.

“That woman, from Sweden I think [Greta Thunberg], they have to listen to the message she is giving the world: not for us now – I’m 71 – but the young people. Climate change is real. The floods, the fire, they are real. But we have no power to do anything about them. We are the victims, we in Africa, and we are powerless. We just want our children to have a future.”

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Protests flare across Poland after death of young mother denied an abortion | Abortion

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Protests are under way across Poland after the death of a 37-year-old woman this week who was refused an abortion, a year since the country introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

On the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday night, protesters laid wreaths and lanterns in memory of Agnieszka T, who died earlier that day. She was pregnant with twins when one of the foetus’ heartbeat stopped and doctors refused to carry out an abortion. In a statement, her family accused the government of having “blood on its hands”. Further protests are planned in Częstochowa, the city in southern Poland where the mother-of-three was from.

“We continue to protest so that no one else will die,” Marta Lempart, organiser of the protests, told Polish media. “The Polish abortion ban kills. Another person has died because the necessary medical procedure was not carried out on time.” All-Poland Women’s Strike has called on people across the country to picket the offices of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and organise road blockades in the coming days.

Agnieszka was first admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa with abdominal pain on 21 December. She is said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she arrived and was in “a good physical and mental shape”, according to her family, who said her condition then deteriorated.

On 21 December the heartbeat of one of the twins stopped and, according to Agnieszka’s family, the doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation. They waited several days until the second foetus also died. A further two days passed before the pregnancy was terminated on 31 December, according to the family.

A priest was then summoned by hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, the family said.

The family say that the doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy earlier, citing Poland’s abortion legislation. “Her husband begged the doctors to save his wife, even at the cost of the pregnancy,” Agnieszka’s twin sister, Wioletta Paciepnik, said on Tuesday.

After the termination, Agnieszka was moved from the gynaecological ward and her health continued to deteriorate. Her family suspect that she died of sepsis but the cause of death was not identified in a statement released by the hospital.

Shortly after her death, a statement by her family accusing the hospital of neglect was published on Facebook, alongside a distressing video of Agnieszka’s last days.

Agnieszka’s death marks the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that declared abortion due to foetal abnormalities illegal. Abortion can now only be carried out in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life and health are in danger.

Her death comes after that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was refused an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found that “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined. Soon after, an anonymous man from Świdnica in south-west Poland came forward to share that his wife, Ania, died in similar circumstances in June last year.

While “selective abortion” is possible in the case of a twin pregnancy, it is unclear whether aborting an unviable foetus to save its healthy twin is permitted by the new abortion legislation. The Polish court has not referenced the questions raised by this situation, presented by opposition senators last year, in the new legislation.

“We want to honour the memory of my beloved sister and save other women in Poland from a similar fate,” Paciepnik said in a video appeal. The case is now being investigated by the regional prosecutors in Katowice, who also investigated the case of Izabela.

The family are represented by Kamila Ferenc, from the Federation for Women and Family Planning, who confirmed that an autopsy of Agnieszka’s body has been ordered by the court.

According to a statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. The hospital did not respond to the Guardian for a request for comment.

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Italy welcoming back EU tourists from February

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Italy will remove all Covid-linked restrictions on international visitors from the EU from 1 February, except the requirement to carry a “Green Pass” – a certificate of vaccination, negative test result, or immunity through having had the virus. Roberto Speranza, the health minister, also gave Italians the go-ahead to travel once again to Cuba, Singapore, Turkey, Thailand (the island of Phuket), Oman, and French Polynesia, Reuters reports.

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Polish state has ‘blood on its hands’ after death of woman refused an abortion | Abortion

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The family of a Polish woman who died on Tuesday after doctors refused to perform an abortion when the foetus’s heart stopped beating have accused the government of having “blood on their hands”.

The woman, identified only as Agnieszka T, was said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she was admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa on 21 December. Her death comes a year after Poland introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

According to a statement released by relatives, the 37-year-old was experiencing pain when she arrived at the hospital but was “fully conscious and in good physical shape”.

The first foetus died in the womb on 23 December, but doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation, and Agnieszka’s family claim “her state quickly deteriorated”. The hospital waited until the heartbeat of the second twin also stopped a week later, and then waited a further two days before terminating the pregnancy on 31 December.

Agnieszka died on 25 January after weeks of deteriorating health. Her family suspect that she died as a result of septic shock, but the hospital did not identify the cause of her death in statement issued on Wednesday.

“This is proof of the fact that the current government has blood on their hands,” the woman’s family said in a statement on Facebook. The family also uploaded distressing footage of Agnieszka in poor health shortly before she died.

After the termination of the pregnancy a priest was summoned by the hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, Agnieszka’s family said.

Her death follows that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was denied an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined.

Agnieszka’s family claim that contact with the hospital was very poor and that the hospital refused to share the results of Agnieszka’s medical tests citing confidentiality guidelines. They say the doctors “insinuated” that Agnieszka’s rapidly deteriorating state could be caused by BSE, commonly known as “mad cow disease”, or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) and suggested she ate raw meat. The hospital did not reference this claim in their statement.

According to the statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. It is not clear whether an autopsy has been ordered.

Agnieszka is survived by her husband and three children.

The Guardian has contacted the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital for comment.

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