Despite providing crucial environmental services, especially as the sole source of clean water from the Guma Valley dam, the Western Area Peninsula National Park (WAPNP) is facing severe threats from human activities. Land grabbing, charcoal burning, quarrying, and marijuana cultivation, exacerbated by weak law enforcement and corruption, pose significant risks to the park’s ecological balance. These threats extend beyond the park, impacting Freetown’s water supply and escalating the potential for disasters like landslides and floods.
Given these challenges, it is imperative to closely monitor WAPNP’s forest coverage to guide effective protection measures.
Reports highlight a notable surge in forest fires, particularly along WAPNP’s boundary, compounding the already precarious situation. Since 2023, 420 hectares of forest have been lost, increasing the likelihood of water shortages, floods and landslides.
Yvonne Forsen, Country Director of the World Food Programme, stressed the urgency, stating, “Time is soon running out to act to preserve the health of the forest and to avert a water crisis and other disasters in and around Freetown.”
The primary objective of the analysis conducted was to offer current data on forest cover in WAPNP from April 2023 to mid-January 2024. Given the National Park’s vital role in protecting Freetown’s water supply and preventing disasters, the findings underscore the gravity of the situation.
The analysis identified that the substantial loss of forest cover, approximately 225 hectares, was primarily due to uncontrolled human-induced forest fires and land clearing, followed by agricultural and urban expansion. New quarries were pinpointed, accompanied by the development of new roads, contributing further to deforestation as land grabbers and charcoal producers encroach upon the park.
The results show that most forest loss occurred along the park’s boundary. However, of utmost concern, forest loss was also identified deep inside the park, with the potential for these areas to expand.
The report, released by the World Food Programme on January 23, 2024, issues a call for immediate action. Preserving the Western Area Peninsula National Park is not only crucial for biodiversity but also paramount for ensuring Freetown’s water supply and mitigating the risk of disasters such as devastating landslides. Strengthened law enforcement, anti-corruption measures, and sustainable land use practices are imperative to address the root causes of these threats.