Stakeholders have at the end of the Western Area Peninsula (WAP) Land Use Conference held at the Hill Valley Hotel on 21st and 22ndFebruary 2019 committed to the development of a Land Use Plan for the Western Area Peninsula landscape and re-affirmed intentions to introduce strict compliance of existing rules and regulations.
The statement is made taking cognizance of the fact that the government of Sierra Leone, under the leadership of His Excellency, President, Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio with the support of environmental conservation organizations, is keen to institute responsible management of land, the environment and state resources.
The WAP Forest has been a protected Forest Reserve since 1916 and most of it was designated a National Park in 2012. The WAP National Park is a Globally Important Key Biodiversity Area and is currently on the Tentative List of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with the potential to become a fully accredited World Heritage Site.
Stakeholders have therefore unanimously declared that activities within the boundaries of the National Park should be strictly controlled; cognizant of the extent of land and forest degradation of the Western Area Peninsula (WAP) landscape; recalling the 2017 mudslide disaster and the increasing trend of disaster events and loss of natural resources and ecosystem services in the country mostly as a result of human activities.
According to the Program Manager of the Sierra Leone Conservation Society, the Western Area Peninsula receives the highest rainfall in the country-200 inches (5,000 mm) annually; and elevation rises in places up to 1,798ft (548m), that the WAP Forest Reserve stores and provides the water needs of nearly 1.5 million people settled around the reserve (Guma Valley and the Congo Dams), that the remaining forest ecosystems and endangered biodiversity need to be protected and provide the potential for sustainable development on the WAP, including social and economic benefits, if well-managed (e.g. through habitat restoration to protect water supplies; potential financing for storage and ecotourism.
However, according to Edward M. Sesay, the conference observed that the following activities greatly impact the people, land and environment of WAP negatively-massive degradation of the natural environment triggered by land grabbing, illegal and un-regulated construction, deforestation (0.7% annually), marijuana farming, logging, pole and fuel-wood cutting, sand mining, stone mining, illegal fishing and hunting and generally poor land use compounded by crime and lack of law enforcement.
Furthermore, the conference recommended strict enforcement and compliance of existing government policy and regulations on land use in and around the Western Area Peninsula Forest to be undertaken and reinforced, that all stakeholders must support government in monitoring, stopping and preventing current illegal activities that negatively impact the environment on the WAP, that a Western Area Peninsular Landscape Partnership of Government Agencies, NGOs, and civil society be established/promoted/re-vitalized highlighting that the partnership will coordinate Western Area Peninsula conservation and sustainability initiatives and oversee development of a Land Use Plan for the WAP.
Mr. Sesay further stated that funding will be sought to support the development and implementation of a WAP Land Use Plan; using a framework approved by the Government, the WAP Partnership, and local communities, develop WAP Land Use Plan /Map, to be published, popularized and implemented as quickly as possible.
Also, systems to be put in place for strict enforcement/observance of the WAP Land Use Plan, that once funding is available, a Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) of the current WAP landscape will be commissioned focusing on areas bordering the forest and identifying major risks to the WAPF ecosystem and the human population, immediately work to institute plans, including feasibility studies and pilot demonstrations, for sustainable practices and alternatives to address key threats to WAP, develop and operationalize Disaster Early Warning Systems (EWS) for particularly vulnerable areas in the WAP, development of programmes of community benefits/ livelihoods–activities that can also support forest restoration and conservation and depend on sustainable use and management of the resources of the WAP in perpetuity and awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns to be undertaken by all stakeholders to highlight the value of the WAPF to people and biodiversity.