Ebrima Scattred Janneh: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 May 2021:
This story was first published in the Sierra Leone Telegraph on 14 April 2021, and is once again being re-published by popular demand, after serious concerns in Sierra Leone about a proposal for a similar fish farming project in the capital Freetown.
The perilous activities of Chinese fish meal factories in the coastal towns of the Gambia, such as Gunjur, are causing extreme and irreparable damage to the environment, as well as destroying the lives and livelihoods of local people and their communities.
Not only are they emitting untreated industrial waste into the ocean, in landfills, and local lagoons but the stench from the factories is unbearable for local people, with tremendous health hazards.
Because of China’s hidden strategy to nationalise our resources to feed its insatiable appetite for economic development, fish meal factory owners in the Gambia are paying pittance to those in authority – through bribery and corruption, in order to achieve their grand strategy of taking control of Gambia’s potential export quotas. (Photo below: Golden Lead Fish Meal Factory in Gunjur, The Gambia).
As overseas business interests and attractive global prices for fish meal drive higher demand, a crucial source of protein is being taken away from the plates of the poorest Gambians while leaving many in the communities out of work.
Today, jet-setting Chinese businessmen arriving in ever greater numbers in The Gambia are exploiting our resources with no regard for the damage they are inflicting on the local environment, our health, local employment, food security, the eco-tourism economy and community security.
I spent my formative years enjoying healthy symbiotic relationship with our leafy forest covers, white sandy coastline, shoreline, sand dunes and a lagoon – once a lush habitat for remarkable wildlife, etc. To therefore, watch these childhood idylls flattened into barren desert by the industrial activities of greedy and rapacious businessmen is hard to stomach.
The coastline and the surroundings were our national parks and playgrounds. We used to play football, exercised and slide on the sand dunes as boys. I had great memories of picnics on the coastline, walking sometimes in companionable silence with friends. It is therefore, with great sadness to see our pristine coastline being destroyed and seemingly irrevocably.
The unchecked destruction of our environment by commercial sand miners and Chinese fish meal factories have stripped the ecosystem of much-loved, once beauty of Gunjur.
The ocean, alas, is not safe anymore because of Chinese fish meal processing factories emitting unknown industrial chemical waste into the sea.
The beach that was once loved by locals and tourists are now mostly covered in reeking fish carcasses that are brought by fisher men to the fish meal factory. At times there is over-supply of fish and the factory in Gunjur cannot take them all. The fisher men mostly from neighbouring Senegal would dump the unwanted fish stock into the sea which is then washed to the beaches.
I am deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness, and frustration due to the government’s inability to do something about the destruction of our environment and livelihoods.
The Gambian government because of corruption and lack of political will has turned a blind eye to the blatant environmental destruction being inflicted on the Gambia by greedy businessmen.
But there are profound risks of ignoring this environmental destruction taking place in coastal towns like Gunjur – the loss of animal species, and the anxiety over what will happen if immediate action is not taken by the authorities.
I worry about the hungry and thirsty cattle roaming on once green lands, scrounging for nourishment. I cry for the turtles that used the sand dunes for laying eggs. The habitat of the most beautiful birds, the foxes, squirrels, rabbits, antelopes, baboons, monkeys are all disappearing.
Above all, these wonderful geological landscapes are gone and along with them – protection against flooding, protection against windstorm, erosion, recreation, wetlands, loss of local vegetation, rice paddies, agricultural lands, horticultural gardens etc.
I am also fearful that we are destroying our environment so fast that our children may no longer enjoy what we enjoyed growing up.
To therefore mitigate the loss to our environment and the next generation, we must stand-up together to save it from haemorrhaging from the activities of greedy corrupt public officials, corrupt businesses, and corrupt individuals.
Gunjur has been abandoned by our own government and left in the hands of greedy businessmen – all because of bribery and corruption.
The time to act is now because if we keep ignoring this environmental destruction, we will spend many years, if not generations, recovering from the profound damage that is being done to our lives, with severe consequences.