By Alpha Good Kamara
A Committee, established in 2022 to investigate the dire encroachment situation plaguing the Western Area Peninsula National Park (WAPNP) has, on the 1st September, 2023, handed a comprehensive report with recommendations to President Dr Julius Maada Bio
The Chief Minister, Dr. David Moinina Sengeh, briefed President Bio, revealing shocking findings of human encroachment on the vital forest reserve surrounding the Guma Valley Dam.
The greenbelt, originally established in 1916 and reviewed in 2013, has fallen victim to relentless human activities, posing a grave threat to the environment and human safety.
Presenting the report, Dr. Isata Mahoi, Co-Chair of the Committee, recalled the devastating fire outbreak in April 2022 within the Mile 13 Guma catchment area, which resulted in a significant loss of forest cover in proximity to the Guma Dam and its treatment facility.
It could be recalled that President Bio’s subsequent visit to the site prompted the formation of the investigative committee.
Dr. Mahoi informed the President that despite submitting the Committee’s findings to the Inter-Ministerial Committee, leading to the deployment of security personnel across the greenbelt area, deforestation and wild bushfires have surged exponentially, endangering both the Guma Dam and human lives.
The greenbelt, spanning 18,337 hectares, has seen 24% of its territory, between Mile 13 and Tokeh, encroached upon, with over 900 structures identified within this area.
Amongst the Committee’s recommendations include an immediate ban on all activities within the greenbelt, quarry mining, unauthorized structures, and illegal activities. Moreover, they proposed the establishment of a physical boundary around the greenbelt area.
After receiving the Report, President Bio expressed his gratitude to the Committee for their dedication to the task. He emphasized the urgency of addressing the crisis, recognizing the vital role of water availability in human survival. The President condemned the involvement of individuals in high positions, including Government agencies, in the forest reserve encroachment.
President Bio pledged swift action and the implementation of necessary measures, such as deploying satellite technology, to combat this existential threat. He urged all citizens to unite in protecting their invaluable natural resources and lamented the silence of those residing in affected communities, who have witnessed the encroachment but have remained passive.
This Report underscores the gravity of the situation, as the President mobilizes to tackle the encroachment issue head-on, ensuring the preservation of Sierra Leone’s vital greenbelt and the sustainability of its water resources.