A moratorium established to stop encroachment into protected areas of the Western Peninsular Forest has not been enforced. The Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy director Mohammed Bah said in 2015 that “irresponsible actions taken on the hills will affect the city greatly”. But construction in these areas continues with impunity, perhaps linked to the fact that many residents are politically connected. The rate of deforestation is alarming and the associated impacts are being felt across the city and not just during the rainy season.
Though local residents, volunteers, faith groups and the community at large are proactive self-organisers and have always been the ‘first and critical emergency response’ — their contribution is often unacknowledged, thereby reinforcing the narrative that it’s only institution-led efforts that have an impact in minimising or reducing the scale of disasters.
I’m pleased to have been part of the recent environmental reporting workshops organised by the Lost Freetown Collective (LFC) and Hirondelle USA, and hosted by Concept Multimedia. Led by co-director of LFC, Nazia Parvez, the workshops brought together Freetown-based journalists and media professionals to explore the theme: ‘coastal zone management and climate change.’
Mangrove forests form an integral part of coastal ecosystems and play a key role in climate change mitigation. Growing in tropical and sub-tropical tidal areas, such as estuaries and marine shorelines, their roots extend deep into the coastal sediment. They serve as effective natural barriers to rising sea levels and flooding, bearing the brunt of storm surges and preventing excessive sedimentation. According to Corcoran, Ravilious and Skuja (2007), mangroves also serve as major carbon sinks, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere together with other greenhouse gases.
Recent incidences of flooding and localised landslides in Freetown have clearly indicated that Sierra Leone lacks the capacity to absorb the effects of such disasters. There is weak resilience, a low level of preparedness and inadequate adaptive capacity in the country to resist climate-induced natural disasters. Communities that are directly affected, including Susan’s Bay in Central Freetown, are increasingly experiencing adverse environmental conditions, especially flooding during the rains, and dwindling water supplies.
With increasing demand for land — due to population growth, demographic changes, and urbanization — and a commensurate increase in the demand for water, food, and shelter, there is a need to re-examine existing land use patterns and consider the possibility of alternative and/or multiple land uses. While still not widespread and fully embraced, agroforestry may provide a solution, offering relatively inexpensive and feasible strategies for providing employment and food security while supporting natural habitats.