Sierra Leone Government must put more efforts in protecting the Peninsular Forest or risk EU’s three Million EurosApril 16, 2012
By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya, Environment Journalist, Standard Times Newspaper
The way and manner in which the Government of Sierra Leone is handling the protection of the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve otherwise known as WAPFOR is clearly showing that the government is showing and putting less attention in ensuring that this reserve is protected for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans and generations to come. All sectors who are mainly and directly involved like the Ministry of Lands Country Planning and the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security to name just a few are clearly showing to the public that the Western Area Peninsula Forest is not worthy to be protected and secured well for our children’s’ children.
The present state and condition of the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve is not good for Sierra Leoneans, for environmentalists, for the international community and even the European Union and the German Welthungerhilfe (WHH) who has provided over three million Euros (€3.2m) for the conservation of the forest reserve and its catchment areas. Day in and day out one can see the environmental destruction going on at various parts of the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve including the Sugar Loaf Mountain at the Regent Community. Standard Times Environment can authoritatively confirm that the encroachment rate at Sugar Loaf community has increased greatly with some people not only going beyond the buffer zone but they are also going far to the newly demarcated forest boundary. The huge whirl of smoke can be seen anywhere in the Peninsular Forest while the wild fire drives the animals away and destroys the ecological landscape of the forest. All the young trees have been burnt down and there is no possibility of them growing during these coming years. The community people are busy cutting down the trees for shelter in this forest and the encroachment is like birds scavenging for food with no one to scare them away.
The Ministry of Lands of Lands Country Planning and the Environment headed by radical Pate Sowe whose who should be key player in preserving the Peninsular Reserve is busy selling part of the reserve for people to construct houses, putting the game reserve in danger. The former Minister of Lands Country Planning and the Environment, Dr. Denis Sandi also seen in the past as key personality in retrieving grabbed state lands for government ironically secured a portion of land within the old demarcated boundary and few meters from the new one. A resident at the community who described himself as Pa Santigie said the house constructed by the former Lands Minister activated his mind and that of other people in the community to grab the land within the Peninsula Reserve at Regent. The house allegedly constructed by the former Lands Minister is also few meters away from the dam operated by the Guma Valley Water Company. It is really a motivating factor and an incredible behavior to see a senior government officer who is supposed to be the leading personality in protecting the forest is seen at the forefront in destroying it.
The Guma Valley Water Company whose key responsibility is to ensure the provision of affordable water in the city cannot able to protect the surrounding of the dam at Sugar Loaf and other water reserve areas. Because of their inefficiency and negligent in protecting the dam, they have caused people to encroach on their land while they sit at their tall dilapidated Guma Building at Lamina Sankoh Street. Interestingly and most disappointingly, the Guma Valley Public Relations Officer by the name of Joseph Musa cannot create the way for journalists to see the present destructive condition of the Mile 13 dam at Sussex. He has proved that to this writer when he was carrying out an assignment for his newspaper and the WAPFOR project.
All kinds of shanty houses can be seen in the forest reserve with the rate of the encroachment increasing on a daily basis. Some people have even laid bricks between the buffer zone and the new boundary while the government is looking without taking any string action against those encroachers. Standard times environment can also confirm that the pillars used to demarcate the new boundary are being destroyed and the iron rods taken away for personal and destructive benefits. Some of the pillars at the upper part of Regent along the Peninsula Forest have been shifted from one place to another while some have been destroyed.
Other ways in which it is clear that the government is not serious to protect the forest is that the Ministers of Lands Country Planning and the Environment and that of the Environment and Forestry have all declined interviews from this writer when he was about to interview them on the present deplorable condition of the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve. Candidly speaking, they declined the environment interview because they know their involvement in the reserve and probably how they have combined and their negligence contributed in destroying the forest reserve which millions of European currencies have been spent upon over the years. In fact, sometimes last year, the Minister of Lands and that of Agriculture where forced by the WAPFOR project to visit and see the effort of the project in the forest and for the community people to also know that there is political interest in protecting the forest. Nothing has been achieved nor addressed since these two ‘Aki and Paw’ Ministers visited the Sugar Loaf Mountain and made bogus promises on what they could do in ensuring that it is protected.
The most frustrating issue is that all sectors such as the Lands and Forestry Ministries have legal mandate to punish anyone caught within the Peninsula Forest but none of these line ministries are really ready to protect the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve. Rather you will hear counter accusations from them each blaming the other for the destruction of the forest. Many people have been saying that the government needs to put more attention in protecting the forest. Even Lands and Forestry Officers who have the legal right to execute any law and regulation will keep saying that the government needs to do more in protecting this Forest Reserve. The Western Area District Forestry Officer (DFO) at the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security, Mr. Joseph Musa said “solving encroachment and forest destruction in the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve need the involvement of all line ministries and stakeholders”. DFO Musa, being a government officer is very optimistic in saying that “if the government of Sierra Leone is serious in protecting the Western Area Peninsula Forest, let State House give the forest guards the authority and power to arrest any person caught encroaching in the Peninsula Forest”. He also added that all they need is the clearance from State House backed by the rule of engagement for them to destroy all the houses constructed within the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve. If this is done, Mr. Musa and other well meaning Sierra Leoneans believe that the Western Area Reserve which is about to be recognized a UNESCO World Heritage site can be protected for the benefit of all in the country.
Sierra Leone seems to be a land where all are free to do anything despite going against the laws of the land and politics is a major issue that is contributing to the destruction of the forest reserve. Most of the encroachers are advancing political issues. They will always say they have the backing of members of party XYZ while others will say this is their time and they must enjoy such time in destroying the peninsular forest for settlement and personal gains. The Forestry DFO told Standard Times Environment that one Mr. Baimba who claims to be a close relative to a Minister of the present government is boasting of his relationship with government officials while destroying the forest reserve at his will despite warnings for him to desist from such practice. Mr. Joseph Musa in a short discussion with Standard Times Environment believes that if politics is put aside and strong measures are taken from the powers that be from above, the forest will be protected.
All livelihood activities have been provided by the WAPFOR project for the communities to avoid destroying the forest but it seems as the more livelihoods are given to them, the more they will be aggrieved in destroying the forest. The WAPFOR Project Director the WHH head in Sierra Leone, Mr. Jochen Moninger is always ready to meet to the demands of the community people in finding livelihood solutions for them to avoid any activity that will hinder on the progress of the peninsular forest reserve. This writer is a living witness and has seen where community people have been provided with alternative livelihood such as honey bee-keeping, vocational skills trainings, Okada motorbikes, provision of community bakeries to name just a few but to my interpretation, it seems all these livelihood activities are useless for them.
The Project Director, Mr. Jochen Moninger is not presently happy with the manner and condition in which the forest reserve is being treated. ‘I am not happy’ he said.
It is not yet clear if the European Union and the Welthungerhilfe will continue to fund a project that the government of Sierra Leone is not giving its fullest support. However if the Sierra Leone government does not increase its commitment in protecting the forest, there is high tendency for the WU and WHH not to continue funding the WAPFOR project after the end of the first five years in 2013.
However, the Minister of Lands Country Planning and the Environment has turn down the request and order of the Vice President to take an urgent demolition of all makeshifts buildings within the WAPFOR area.
Read in our next edition, the decisions taken by the Vice President and the Ministers of agriculture and Forestry and other stakeholders at the Vice President’s Office and how the Minister of Lands, Alliue Pat Sowe disappointed VP Samsumana on environmental issues.