Suspension bridge over the River Indus, Pakistan

Coastal communities

Coastal communities are likely to be hit hard by climate change

Among the most vulnerable populations are those living next to the sea or relying on the sea for their livelihoods. Higher sea levels and storm surges are already reshaping low-lying coastal areas.

Maps of Cotonou (the largest city in the West African country of Benin) from 1963 to 2000 show that the shoreline has receded over 400 metres in places. Erosion leads to loss of homes, agricultural land and roads.

Sand eel, prawns and anchovies

From left: sand eel, prawns and anchovies.


Edwin van Wier/iStockphoto (left); Robert Bremec/iStockphoto (centre); iStockphoto (right)

As well as physical damage, the sea can contaminate freshwater supplies with salt water, making land unfit for agriculture or human inhabitance. Coastal communities can also expect more flooding, thanks to extreme weather and rising seas. As well as the initial damage, disruption of water supplies increases the risk of transmissible diseases. Fungal growth is a problem as buildings dry out – causing respiratory problems such as the ‘Katrina cough’ seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Aquaculture – the farming of fish and shellfish – is an expanding sector, employing some 55 million people, mostly in Asia. It is highly vulnerable to climate change – from sea and storm damage to the biological impact on fish.

Lead image:

Theresia Hofer/Wellcome Images CC BY NC ND

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Microbiology, Ecology and environment, Health, infection and disease
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development