By Foday Moriba Conteh
The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), in collaboration with the Republic of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA) and the Ministry of Public and Political Affairs, on the 20th April 2022 raided individuals who have been illegally burning the forest reserve within the Guma Dam – for almost a week – arrested two suspects who are helping the police with investigations and deployed military officers and forest guards to protect the facility.
According to eye witnesses, these individuals would arm themselves at night with machetes and other dangerous weapons to challenge forest guards who are most times on duty to protect the area. There have been instances of serious clashes between land grabbers and forest guards, leaving the latter with severe injuries. The primary aim of burning the forest reserve along the peninsula is to illegally claim these lands and sell them.
The said forest fires and other environmental hazards have contributed to a significant forest loss within the Dam; which have the proclivity of disrupting the water cycle and lead to a drier climate and drier soil. Thus, the ground will no longer contain and receives much water to supply residents in Freetown and its environs.
Throughout last week, the NMDA received numerous reports of forest burnings along the peninsula. The NDMA through its Directorate of Relief and Response, Risk Reduction and Preparedness, together with NPAA, the Ministry of Public and Political Affairs and RSLAF visited the various scenes and arrested two perpetrators while searching for others who are on the run.
The Deputy Minister of Public and Political Affairs, Amara Kallon, said that there was need for inter-agency and inter-ministerial approach to addressing the twin crises of climate change and nature loss. According him, deforestation leads to climate change, nature loss and human suffering. He also pointed out that the unprecedented deforestation within the Guma Dam forest reserve should be stopped immediately to save it from completely drying up.
NDMA’s Director of Relief and Response, Sinneh Mansaray said addressing deforestation requires tough decisions to regulate land-use and enforce legislation. He went on to say that the NDMA will continue to work with the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning, the Sierra Leone Police, the Office of National Security and other security institutions to devise workable strategies to protect Sierra Leone’s forest reserve.
Head of Operations at Mile 13, Sergeant Foday, called on the security sector to re-institute operation “Restored Hope”, which was established in 2009 wherein joint security patrols were frequently undertaken across the forest reserve areas to repel land grabbers and/or illegal timber logging. He said this will help the forest guards to execute their duties efficiently.
About two months ago, the World Food Programme (WFP), through a request made by NDMA, hired the service of a consultant to assess the risk Guma Dam is exposed to using high-tech drone technology. According to his report, there are new established settlements as a result of rapid deforestation and land acquisition by locals at a close proximity to the Dam from various ends.
The report also points out that about 2,850 hectares (5,550) acres has been captured as settlement areas close to the Dam, where water level is considered as the lowest in history which is currently on layer four (4), and about 40% of the surface area within the perimeter of the Dam has been compromised.
The National Disaster Management Agency will continue to engage relevant stakeholders within the security and environmental sectors to provide adequate security for the protection of the Guma Dam.