The tragedy of Freetown’s peninsular forests

Dr Sama Banya

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 May 2014

freetown peninsular1A few weeks ago there was a radio announcement that the ministers of land, country planning and the environment, together with the minister of agriculture, forestry and food security, were to undertake a tour of the western area Peninsular.

Their aim was to take action against anyone who had built in forest reserve areas, especially those which constitute the catchment areas of the Guma and Congo dams.

These illegal constructions constitute a threat to the water supply to the city of Freetown and its suburbs.

Out of curiosity, I drove up to Regent and then down and along the new peninsular road, which is under rehabilitation.

Leicester Peak is now rid of all forest cover and vegetation, and has been left naked for developers to continue their havoc.

On the peninsular road, my heart bled as I looked up at Mount Sugar Loaf and the chain of mountains of the Western area Peninsular, overlooking Freetown and the Atlantic Ocean.

freetown peninsular2I came to the conclusion that the concerned ministers were attempting to lock the stable gates after the horses have already bolted.

The mountains have been completely rid of every forest cover and vegetation, leaving them bare and ugly.

This unfortunate and sad condition has been caused by human activity, including deliberate clearing for the expansion of human settlements.

Everywhere, buildings are being erected further up towards the top of the mountain range.

Little wonder that the western area has experienced the longest dry season in my own memory, with the rains beginning only now with less than a week to the end of May.

freetown peninsular mapAnd let no one pretend that it is due to the world wide climate change.

As I went as far as Hamilton junction, I turned back concluding that the tragedy was the same all the way to Tokeh, with perhaps a patch of forest in the immediate vicinity of the Guma dam – which is by no means enough to constitute a realistic catchment area.

Were we to have really heavy rains, the soil from the mountains would be washed all the way down, causing severe erosion, and then followed by the destruction of the beauty of our famous beaches with silt.

Bird and other wildlife in the peninsular have been completely wiped out, making the area no longer attractive to eco-tourists.

View from Sugar Loaf MountainThe European Union provided funds in the past, for the effective conservation of the western area forests.

During my twenty-five years with the Conservation Society, we and other groups engaged in the preservation of our biodiversity, devoting much time creating public awareness through advocacy and education.

This was aimed at nature conservation and the preservation of our rich fauna and wildlife.

It would now appear as if we had been preaching to deaf ears. Could the inexcusable stubbornness be due to our good fortune, in that we have never experienced the natural disasters like prolonged drought which have been the bane of some other countries – even in our own sub region?

On reading this, some people may conclude that it is alarmist and an expression of despair – a state of hopeless resignation.

There are remedies which could reverse the trend in the areas not yet covered by human settlements.

They provide the only opportunity now available to us in preserving the rich heritage left to us by past generations, which we are under moral obligation to conserve, not just for the next generation but for generations yet unborn.

freetown peninsular1The government through both the ministry of agriculture, forestry, food security and the environment; and the environmental protection agency (EPA), must now make a determined effort to take strong action.

They must halt any further extension of human settlements up the mountain slopes.

Also, they must seek funding and contract out the task of comprehensive tree planting on the mountain tops and the entire area.

Unless and until there is a political will to do this – regardless, the battle to save the western area peninsular forests and mountains, would be futile and lost forever, with predictable dire consequences.

I understand that on his Excellency’s instructions, a three storey house on a protected site has been demolished.

If this is true, and I sincerely pray that it is, then there is hope for the successful implementation of the above proposals.

Remember Mr. President, time is running out.

Dr Sama Banya is the former honorary President of the Sierra Leone Conservation Society.

 

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