State House, Freetown, Friday 1 September 2023 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio today received the report, with recommendations, from the committee that was commissioned in 2022 and mandated to investigate the extent, causes and implications of encroachment into the Western Area Peninsula National Park, WAPNP.
Chief Minister, Dr David Moinina Sengeh, told President Bio that members of the committee were in his office to submit their report, adding that they discovered that there were lots of human encroachment on the forest reserve area around Guma Valley Dam.
He said the Greenbelt was first established in 1916 and was reviewed in 2013 but human activities had encroached the reserve and subsequently posed a serious threat to human existence.
Presenting the report, Dr Isata Mahoi, who was co-chair of the committee, said in April 2022, when a fire outbreak occurred within the Mile 13 Guma catchment area, it resulted in huge loss of forest cover within the WAPNP, which is closer to the Guma Dam and treatment facility.
“Subsequently, President Bio visited the site to see firsthand the extent of damage within a designated protected forest/greenbelt area close to the Guma facilities. One of the outcomes of the President’s visit was to set up an investigation committee,” she explained.
She informed the President that although the investigation committee’s report was submitted to the Inter-Ministerial committee, which led to the deployment of security personnel at different locations within the greenbelt area, the rate of deforestation and wild bushfires increased exponentially, posing threat to the Guma dam and human existence.
“The greenbelt covers an area of 18,337 hectares and 24% of the greenbelt area, between Mile 13 and Tokeh, has been encroached. From the study conducted, over 900 structures were found within the greenbelt along Mile 13 to Tokeh village,” she disclosed.
She said the committee recommended that the government should put an immediate ban on all activities within the greenbelt, all quarry mining, unwanted structures and illegal activities, adding that a physical boundary needs to be established around the greenbelt area.
In his remarks, President Bio thanked the committee for putting in their best in the task that they were mandated to do, noting that from the snippet of the report, it was clear that everyone should come onboard to fight against that which threatened human existence.
“Our existence depends on the availability of water. I have always said that most of our problems were created by ourselves and this was just an example of what I have been saying. We, as a nation, are fortunate to have abundant water around us and we should never misuse that opportunity,” he said.
He said he had been informed that people in high places, including agencies of government, were involved in the encroachment of the forest reserve, noting that in his estimation, it was an existential problem that needed to be urgently addressed before the Western Area experienced acute water shortage.
“I have been waiting for this report and we will act on it very soon and do whatever that is needed to be done. We need to deploy a satellite technology there because human beings have failed us, especially those we depend on to protect us. It is disturbing that people within those affected communities are seeing the encroachment but keeping quiet about it,” he stated.
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