By Amin Kef Sesay
Last week, the European Union Ambassador in Sierra Leone, Tom Vens highlighted that climate change poses serious threat to Sierra Leone’s sustainable development.
His call on the media to focus more attention on environmental reporting in order to educate the public about the environmental hazards and its socio-economic impact on local communities should be a national cry that the Ministries of Information and Communications, Lands and the Environment, Forestry, the Local Councils and all the local government administrations should buy into in a bid to Sierra Leone ending up becoming a Sahel country due to wilful rapacious destruction of the country’s forests and its invaluable irreplaceable flora and fauna as well as its beaches and coastlines.
Ambassador Vens noted that Sierra Leone is the third most vulnerable country exposed to the severe impacts of climate change induced by humans and also natural causes.
Statistically, in 2020, Sierra Leone ranked below the regional average on the Environmental Performance Index (177/180).
The country’s biodiversity, forests and fish stocks have seen significant deterioration over the past decade, and the impact on environmentally sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fisheries threatens the basis of 60% of the economy and the livelihood of 70% of people, thereby increasing conflict risks.
Furthermore, the habitat destruction correlates with zoonotic diseases such as the 2014/15 Ebola Virus disease, which renders the fragmentation of Sierra Leone’s forests a global public health issue.
In outlining the role of the media in this national awareness raising campaign, Ambassador Vens stated that, “The media does not only have a responsibility to report disasters but also to improve transparency and accountability around environmental issues, and help ensure that policies are implemented to guaranty the protection of our people, their livelihoods and the safety of our environment.”
He observed that the negative effect of Climate Change has impacted mainly the environment and its rich biodiversity including agriculture, fisheries, tourism, the energy and water sectors.
Even as we speak, the entire country is suffering from extreme shortage of water due to many water catchment areas in both urban and rural settlements having been deforested.
In which regard, in July 2015, UNDP-Sierra Leone noted that climate change might undermine decades of development gains.
The then The Executive Chairperson of EPA SL, Haddijatou Jallow warned that Sierra Leone was already suffering from the impacts of climate change and that it might adversely affect the country’s drive towards prosperity.
Speaking at a meeting in Freetown where the National Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan for Sierra Leone was been discussed, Mrs. Jallow warned that “Mudslides, flash floods, changing rainfall patterns with terrible impact on farmers resulting in poor food production is already here,” adding that “Coastal communities around the country are feeling the strain too, with increased coastal erosion that is seriously affecting these communities.”
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) Country Director, Sudipto Mukerjee said, “Climate change is a reality that we all have to face and we have little time left. There is alarming evidence that tipping points, leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and our global climate system, may already have been reached or passed.”
Mr Mukerjee called for “Hydrocarbon-based energy systems and economies to be transformed and appropriate adaptation measures put in place.”
According to analyses done in 2012 for the development of Sierra Leone’s Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, climate change will lead to severe consequences in Sierra Leone including: decreased agricultural productivity, degradation of the coastline and damage to coastal structures, a shift from tropical rain forest to dry forest, food and nutrition insecurity, water stress and severe economic impacts that will undermine decades of development gains.
Meanwhile, what concerted sustained action will be taken by the Government and its development partners to rapidly mitigate the effects of climate change in Sierra Leone, which offers huge employment opportunities to youths of both sexes, remains to be seen; with President Bio having said in his last speech to Parliament that 5 million trees are to be planted countrywide; beside which much more has to be done socio-economically to halt and reverse climate change.