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Sierra Leone holds National workshop on Coastal and Marine sensitivity mapping

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

The government of Sierra Leone through the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone has launched a project that will ensure a Coastal sensitivity mapping in Sierra Leone. The launching was done at the British Council hall in Freetown on Monday 11th November 2013 and the purpose is to sensitize and ensure full participation of all the ministries, and departments as well as NGOs and Civil Society organizations in the process. The project to undertake the sensitivity mapping in Sierra Leone is being funded by the Regional Programme for Coastal and Marine Conservation {PRCM} and the United Nations Development Programme.

Experts say the sensitivity mapping exercise is intended to facilitate national capacity and strengthening of oil spill preparedness and response in Sierra Leone. The mapping will include identification of biological and socioeconomic resources [those that are sensitive to oil pollution] and the ranking of the shoreline using international best practice.

During the launching ceremony, the United Nations Development Programme’s Portfolio Manager for Disaster and the Environment, Madam Mariatu Swaray said the coastline of Sierra Leone is about 560km long provides both leisure and socio-economic benefits for the country and that its people and there is need to sustain its marine and coastal environment amidst all environmental threats that are there.

Madam Swaray noted that owing to the growing hydrocarbon development in sierra Leone, there is risk of pollution from oil which give rise to the need for proper early warning systems and oil spill preparedness plans adding that one of the contingency strategies is through the development of a coastal sensitivity map which conveys relevant information on the different coastal resources and also indicating environmentally sensitive areas within the coastal zone area. she adds that ‘the sensitivity map will act as a pillar for the development of an effective oil spill contingency plan that will cater for addressing issues related to oil spill.

Madam Swaray reiterated that sensitivity mapping is of key importance for the environment and marine sectors as well as for informed decision making for water and natural resource management, subsistence fishing and large scale agro-business, mining companies, and hydro-carbon generation. She also opined that the results of the coastal sensitivity mapping will go a long way in addressing the challenges of coastal resource management which she also added will systematically and strategically mainstream into development policies and strategies and other development frameworks in order to complement the works done to achieve the agenda for Prosperity.

The UNDP has been supporting the EPA-SL since its inception with various human and technical capacity building initiatives as well as policy development and has been instrumental in the establishment of the GIS database within the EPA which is going to form the bed rock for the coastal sensitivity mapping.

President Koroma in March 2012 while launching the scooping report for the Strategic Environmental Assessment [SEA] for potential hydrocarbon development in Sierra Leone said ‘our primary aim in undertaking the SEA is to ensure that oil and gas finds here in Sierra Leone are exploited to secure the national interest and future economic prosperity, while supporting the social welfare of directly affected communities and protecting our environment’.

In his keynote address, Mr. Dan Mason on behalf of the Chairperson and the Board of the EPA-SL said the launching of the sensitivity mapping exercise by the EPA-SL and its partner is not a mere coincidence but a calculated plan aimed at meeting the expectation of the government of Sierra Leone.

Mr. Mason noted that the methodology to be used for creating the digital Environmental Sensitivity Index [ESI] atlas using GIS technology will involve; meeting with local and regional resource experts, documenting the location of biological human use and environmental resources, compiling the information onto maps and into tables, digitizing spatial data and attribute information into specified digital formats, performing initial classification of shoreline environmental sensitivity, producing initial ESI maps and attribute tables for review, incorporating edits from local resource experts and releasing digital products including metadata for dissemination.

Mr. Mason also states that in the last few years, sensitivity mapping has moved from a static product of limited distribution focused only on oil spills to a more versatile and valuable tool for a wide range of natural resource management applications adding that in many areas, an ESI project becomes the impetus for compiling, synthesizing and automating extensive data which have never been available in digital formats.

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