Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Gordon McBean


Lagos, Nigeria is one the world’s megacities at risk from climate change. Communities along the coast have been hit hard by floods, storm surges, and rising seas, due to the city’s geographic location, inadequate infrastructures, and poor urban governance. These factors together with social inequality have been known to shape vulnerability to climatic hazards but less understood is the role of human rights.

The objective of this thesis is to develop a grounded understanding of the links between human rights and the vulnerability of people to climate change impacts (i.e. floods and storm surges). The study combined qualitative and quantitative techniques in order to better understand the ways that infringement on human rights (i.e., right to housing, health and participation) reinforces or exacerbates vulnerability in coastal communities in Lagos, Nigeria. Results from this study revealed that residents in poor coastal settlements were highly exposed and vulnerable to floods because of their marginal social, economic and political status and also because of the government’s disregard of their rights to adequate housing and health. This manifested in the form of forcible evictions, inadequate investment in social infrastructure, and discrimination in land use and in decision making over drainage systems. When gender and the geographic ‘locale’ of vulnerability were considered, evidence showed that women in poor coastal settlements were more vulnerable and they experienced higher impacts and slower recovery from flooding compared to women of higher socio-economic classes. Furthermore, a study of a government project on vulnerability risk-reduction and adaptation revealed that adaptation policy in Lagos was largely pro-growth rather than pro-poor, and did not address the vulnerabilities of the poor in coastal settlements and neighbourhoods. Despite being the most vulnerable, people in such areas were excluded from participating in adaptation planning and decision making processes.

The threats posed by climate change to a population divided along class, income, gender, and geographic locations, raises searching questions regarding appropriate and equitable adaptation policy. In this study, I argue that an approach predicated on human rights principles, while having its own limitations, can help propel targeted, meaningful, and ethically just adaptation in the coastal city of Lagos.