Deforestation in the Peninsular Forest: government needs to act fast or risk facing severe damage

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya:

It is like brushing for farming here in the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve. Whenever you visit communities closer to the reserve, one witnesses new attempts by the people in causing deforestation either for settlement or for the purpose of charcoal burning.

There are key water catchments areas in the Western Area Peninsular Forests supplying water used by residents in the capital city. There are three main areas here at the Regent axis which need protected forests in other to effectively perform. These are the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary biodiversity hotspot, the Congo Dam reserve, and the Bathurst mini dam reserve at Bathurst presently under construction through the funding and assistance of the Chinese government. The mini dam will definitely rely on water coming from the hills where the deforestation and charcoal burning is presently taking place.

Few yards from the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary has been brushed and cleared off, with the site apparently burnt down. It is not clear whether those who cleared the site wanted to farm or settle in this area because neither will ever be feasible in this place as the site is very hilly and steep, down to more than 80 degrees in angle.

It could be recalled that the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve project (WAPFOR) is presently doing all it can in order for this forest to be protected. The project has provided many livelihood activities for the communities around the forests. Bathurst community with its youths and community people who are destroying the forest have been provided with more than three commercial motor bikes and other key services as livelihood packages in order for them to help protect the Western Area Peninsular Forest.

The Forest regulations states that any person caught cutting a tree in the Western Area Peninsular Forest will be punished according to the laws of the land. But this is not seen happening here. Recently, though the Forest Guards trained and employed by the WAPFOR project arrested more than five youths brushing closer to the Tacugama Sanctuary Police officers reportedly released those people with no charges made.

The District Forest Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security, Mr. Joseph Musa said the Government of Sierra Leone needs to do all its best to help prevent the destruction of the environment and the Forest within the Peninsular Reserve. Mr. Musa said when they took the perpetrators to the Police, a woman claiming to be Madam Jarrett said she sent the youths to brush in the Reserve, declaring that she owns the land. Nevertheless, in principle and according to the books, such lands within the Western area belong to the Government of Sierra Leone, but this is not really seen to be the case.

This is the Congo dam with water showing significant fall. It is not known when this will rise but if the laws are enforced it is hoped the dam will full to the brim

The Congo Dam along few yards from where the deforestation is taking place used to supply enough water for communities in the central and eastern part of the city. This dam can no longer supply enough water as it used to do in the past. The water level at the tank has fallen to more than 25 ft from the top of the tank. Mr. Joseph Musa said the reason for this substantial fall is because of the deforestation taking place around the Congo Dam. He said if the catchment areas of the Western Area Peninsular Forest are maintained, they will help to secure and maintain water supply, and also help in ecotourism for the country.

One can really wonder how the dam will be in the next 20 and 30 years when the population would have increased in the city and the country. It is now time the government of Sierra Leone begins to take the environment with all seriousness. Mr. Musa said “if proper measures are not taken within the next few years, there will be severe damage to the environment”.

Just few walks from the Congo dam and the Tacugama Chimpanzee biodiversity sanctuary is a place where charcoal burning is taking place. Charcoal burners and miners have cleared a vast area of land within the forest for their personal business but a delegation headed by Mr. Musa with environmental journalists from the Union of Environment Journalists and the Sierra Leone Environment Journalists Association destroyed the heap of charcoal prepared by the miners. The reason for the destruction of this heap is to frustrate the efforts of the charcoal miners in damaging the Forest.

Presumably, this is the kind of operation that should be taken within the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve with the support of the ministries involved to get the backing of the Police and Military officers in order to help protect this forest.

This had been suggested by the Ministers of Lands and Forestry, but they are not seen to be abiding to the promises they made when they were prevailed upon to visit Sugar Loaf by the Head of the WAPFoR project on the 24th of August 2010.

Mr. Joseph Musa showing frustration over the deforestation along the Tacugama Sanctuary

If this is not done, what awaits us and our children within the next fifty years remain something that most responsible thinking individuals will not want to see happening to even a pet in a house.

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