President Bio launches national tree planting as nation remembers mudslide victims

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 August 2018:

Two days ago – 14th August 2018, the people of Sierra Leone remembered the devastating mudslide which took the lives of more than a thousand people in the mountain districts of the capital Freetown, following heavy rains.

Most of the dead were buried alive by mud and fallen rocks in their homes, whilst hundreds are still unaccounted for, believed to have drowned and swept into the sea.

Hundreds of the mudslide survivors and their families are still homeless and struggling to survive.

Marking the first anniversary of the deadly occasion at an official ceremony in Freetown, president Julius Maada Bio said:

“As a new Government we are determined to learn the lessons from this tragedy and that is why we are now implementing and enforcing the following measures:

“The Sugar Loaf Mountain and its environs is an Environmentally Protected Area and anyone who builds on this environmentally protected area will be prosecuted and the building structure demolished. The Ministry of Lands, Housing & the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency will enforce the protection of this environment.

”We are Banning Stone Mining, Charcoal Burning and Fuel Wood activities in the Reserved Forest of Sugar Loaf Mountain. The Environmental Protection Agency is enforcing this as well.

“As I have said, Today is about remembering the victims of this terrible tragedy. So we are converting this tragic scene into a National Tourist Memorial Park for reflection and as a Memorial to all the Victims of this Tragedy. This National Memorial Park will ensure that We Remember all the Victims of this national Tragedy

“As a proactive and responsive Government, my Cabinet has endorsed the establishment of a National Disaster Preparedness and Management Agency. As we are the 3rd most vulnerable Country in the world at Risk to adverse Climate change, so we have to prepare ourselves for this with a National Disaster Preparedness and Management Agency.”

Today, Thursday 16th August 2018, president Bio has gone one stop further. He has launched a National Tree Planting Campaign, to help combat deforestation and promote better management of the country’s eco-system.

Speaking at the ceremony at the Military Barracks in Wilberforce, Freetown, this is what he said:

“Let me start by thanking you for being part of this history making event. The state of our forests deserves our collective attention and action. For my part, this Government is committed to implementing policies and practices that will support effective biodiversity management.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), as it name implies, has two components: The Agriculture component, which promotes food security, and Forestry which focuses on biodiversity management.

Therefore, I support the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s initiative to develop its Seven Priorities, in line with my Government’s New Direction policy framework. It is important to note that the sixth Priority is Strengthening Sustainable Biodiversity Conservation and Management.

Mr Chairman, my Government takes the responsibility of protecting our country, its people and its future seriously.  That is why, despite the enormous economic challenges we inherited, my Government is committed not only to improving the lives of all Sierra Leoneans across the country but also to preserving the environment for the current and future generations.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the large-scale mismanagement of our forests and forest resources in the past years have resulted in the denudation of vast acreages of land in urban and rural areas.

We don’t need to look any further than the terrible tragedy of the Mudslide and Floods on the 14th August 2017 to realize the quantum of devastation that the mismanagement of our forests could unleash.

That is why on the commemoration of the twin disasters of the 14th August tragedy, I announced series of measures to protect the reserved forest of the Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Let me reiterate that my Government will continue to be proactive by taking measures to prevent disasters and not just to react to disasters.

My Government is also committed to manage our urban and rural ecosystems in ways that could forestall the scale of human tragedy that we witnessed last year.

Therefore, one of such deliberate preventive actions we must continue to embark on is the traditional tree planting day which we do on the 5th of June every year. But, ladies and gentlemen, having just one tree planting day in the year is too inadequate to be impactful.

To address this inadequacy, my Government is today launching the National Tree Planting Campaign in the months of August through to September.

The objectives of this National Tree Planting Campaign are as follows:

To increase public awareness on deforestation, the benefits of forests and increase community involvement in establishing community forests

To plant at least 2 hectares of forests in each district with the full participation of community stakeholders during the months of August and September.

To contribute to the greenery and beauty of some key Government premises with specific reference to the Western Area; and

To protect fragile ecosystems from degradation.

This campaign intends to make tree planting not just a once-a-year pastime but an everyday practice for Government, District Councils, local and traditional authorities and, most importantly, individual families. This is a collective action all of us must take to protect our ecosystems. It is our shared responsibility.

On a global level, my Government is committed to adhering to prescriptions of international compacts, like the Sustainable Development Goals and the Declaration of Ethical Principles in Relation to Climate Change.

Mr. Chairman, I also note the significance of the role of our country’s Armed Forces in launching this National Tree Planting exercise. The significance does not lie in the fact that the army’s colour is green but the fact that the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces is taking part in the tree-planting drive. I salute you, our gallant Men and Women of RSLAF.

I am also heartened to realise that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has involved the Police, Schools, District Councils, tribal authorities and families from various communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the value of trees could be not only as forest cover but also its potential to support wealth-creation.

Therefore, I will encourage the growing of economic trees, like cashew, cocoa, etc., for this National Tree Planting Campaign to create wealth for women, men, youth and even our children who will be the managers of the future.

I will also encourage the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to set a target of the number of trees to be planted every year.

Our Government is very enthusiastic about the national urban and rural greening. This National Tree Planting Campaign, which we hope will funnel into everyday practice, will make Sierra Leone truly green. Under my Government, Sierra Leone will be green and the future will be bright.

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, with great optimism let me now formally launch the National Tree Planting Campaign. Let’s get to work. I thank you.”

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