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Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio Receives Catholic Relief Services and The Nature Conservancy to Discuss Partnership Around Water Conservation and Protection of Environment

State House, Freetown, Tuesday 23 January 2024 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has held a fruitful engagement with Jennifer Overton, the Catholic Relief Services, CRS, Regional Director for West Africa and Ademola Ajagbe, the Regional Managing Director, Africa, for The Nature Conservancy, on opportunities around the Water Fund and conservation of nature.

Before stating the purpose of the courtesy call and presenting the team, Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Madam Kenyeh Ballay, who is responsible for coordinating nongovernmental and international nongovernmental organisations, said for the last 60 years CRS had supported the country in the areas of education, health and urban resilience, but also during emergencies.

In her statement, Madam Overton informed the President about the launch on Thursday 25 January 2024 of the Water Fund and thanked him for his leadership to protect the environment and commitment, through his ministers, to the Water Fund which he established in a cabinet paper in 2021.

She expressed gratitude for His Excellency’s recent declaration on climate change. She congratulated him on everything he was doing to protect the environment and the water source in the country, including his government’s efforts to lead and support the initiative for the Western Area Peninsula National Park.

She reiterated that the Fund was an important investment for the country, citing their recent study, in collaboration with the government, which found out that by 2030 there would be no more water in the dam. She said because 2030 was just around the corner the Water Fund would, therefore, help save lives and avoid a natural disaster by providing water, reducing flooding and creating jobs for youth.

While she reminded the President of Government’s commitment to invest in the Fund, the CRS Regional Director for West Africa also emphasised that water was life and they knew that based on the findings of the study, for every dollar invested in the Water Fund, it would create 2.7 dollars of benefits.

She introduced their partner, The Nature Conservancy, whose Regional MD, Mr. Ajagbe updated the President on their work globally and with a presence in nine African countries. He said he was very pleased with their collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone.

He said the launch in Sierra Leone would be the first in West Africa and was, therefore, really remarkable and a big initiative for them because the Western Area Peninsula National Park was also a global asset.

He pointed out 3 critical things, the first being water security, adding that no city could thrive without water. He said from a water security perspective, they were looking at how to safeguard water sources with the growing population in Freetown. He talked about conserving the greenery around the Park and increasing the quality and quantity of water downstream as a very important natural infrastructure.

The Nature Conservancy representative also mentioned the food security system within the country as critical, recalling that just like his country, Nigeria, people depended on rain-fed agriculture, but emphasised that with the waterfall model, they were looking at how to transition the traditional farming system into regenerative practices.

“And we’ve done it in other parts of the world successfully, including in a country like Kenya, where we supported the government with the Nairobi Water Fund, majorly looking at the water capping that supplied water to Nairobi. And through that programme, currently, we are supporting almost 200,000 households, with more than 600,000 beneficiaries in the planting of economic trees and cash crops.

“So, it’s really about unlocking job opportunities and skills for the youth but beyond that it is about connecting farmers to the market, to the extent that right now Kenya is exporting avocado and has moved to become the 6th exporter of avocado,” he said.

In his response, President Julius Maada Bio welcomed the guests and thanked them for their efforts to help his government deal with the very critical problem of water. He added that dealing with water situations had always brought with it a host of other considerations like agriculture, food security and unemployment.

He said that that was why he wanted to thank them for coming over to discuss a way forward. He noted that it was quite tough, especially with the pressure on the city, to engage with the public. He cited challenges in their efforts to get the buy-in of the public and to get them to understand protecting the environment and water sources was about their lives.

President Bio also recognised the fact that it was an existential issue that the world was faced with today, to make sure that they conserved what they had today so that they would be able to get the necessary supply of water tomorrow. He agreed that it was a fight they had to win because the partnership must try to get the public to understand the danger of destroying everything around them and expecting the environment to support their existence.

He pointed out that people had very little value for trees and they would fell them at will and for no good reason, making it very hard to fight the habit. He, however, registered his profound gratitude for all that CRS and The Nature Conservancy had done. He encouraged them to give the necessary support, especially technical, and to add their voice to the government’s efforts. he said that way the population would understand the seriousness of what we were dealing with.

He clarified that enforcing environmental policies was not about the government wanting to exercise power, but it was about addressing an existential issue. He said already it was difficult, elsewhere around the world, for people to get water but Sierra Leone was fortunate to have water. He noted that once people understood the importance of it, they would know what they needed to do for the restoration of critical habitat.

He told the team that his government had put together a group with diverse backgrounds to discuss how they could protect the environment and that was how the Green Belt Report came to being. He added that the government was definitely committed to implementing its findings and recommendations.

President Bio also assured of government’s financial commitment and because it was a multisectoral issue, they would get all line ministries to be part of the coordination for maximum results. He encouraged them to keep reminding the government about their commitment because that was what partnership was all about.

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