On the 5th June 2020, Sierra Leone joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Environment Day.
President Julius Maada Bio, addressing his audience comprising a galaxy of top state functionaries at the Mortomeh community, Regent Village, Western Rural District, reminisced on the indescribable tragedy that occured in the early morning hours of the fateful day of August 14, 2017.
The President recounted how, as a nation, “we lost hundreds of our compatriots and billions of Leones worth of property” underscoring that “the prominent gash on the green hillside scars our collective memory forever”.
He said that the country is reminded every day that climate change is real with its attendant effects of global warming and unpredictable weather patterns, land degradation, erosion, habitat loss, etc.
“This has unsettled ecosystems and altered weather patterns, with an impact for foliage loss and biodiversity, water security, agriculture and food security and economic development,” President Bio said, underscoring how slash and burn farming techniques, unregulated mining activities, indiscriminate pole and timber harvest, unplanned urbanization and infrastructural development, bush fires, have all increased the risk of environmental disasters in recent times.
The Chief Executive pointed out that satellite imagery of the Western Area alone shows stunning tree cover loss just over the last two decades.
He said that over time “all of our environmentally-unfriendly practices and impacts have increased the vulnerability of people with women and children most at risk”.
President Bio recalled his inaugural speech to Parliament in which he mentioned that Sierra Leone was ranked the 3rd most vulnerable country to climate change in the world; in other words the 3rd country in the world with the least capacity to respond or adapt to environmental change.
“The same Verisk Maplecroft Index states that 13 percent of the country’s area and more than 35 percent of the population are at risk of disasters.”
He said they have taken proactive measures toward effective environmental governance, ecosystem conservation, management of forest resources, and environmental education.
The President informed that he has established a standalone Ministry of the Environment and that they are passing progressive legislation and policies to mitigate and manage environmental risks.
He elaborated on how his government through the newly established Ministry of the Environment, aims to intensify reforesting the country through the development of Community Forests in a bid to increase tree cover and consequently minimize the environmental disasters plaguing the country.
“Thus, the Ministry has developed a National Tree Planting, Reforestation and Afforestation of degraded lands and coastal areas project,” he announced, noting that the project aims to develop Community Forests in all the sixteen districts of Sierra Leone.
The President informed the gathering that the country is observing the commencement of the National Tree Planting exercise which he later launched, asking all Sierra Leoneans to be environmentally friendly.
“This National Reforestation and Afforestation Project, which was included in the 2020 budget, will benefit the whole country,” he assured, adding that it will be pursued along with the Government’s commitment to creating jobs in rural communities.
He disclosed that the project will initially target 10,000 youths comprising at least 50 percent women.
President Bio said it will increase forest cover, enhance the capacity of carbon sequestration and biodiversity, and help reduce the adverse impact of climate change on the country.
He added that it will prevent the displacement of populations caused by flooding, as the trees will curtail water from heavy downpours.
“It will reduce early and erratic rainfall patterns leading to reduced flooding and windthrow hazards.”
President Bio furthered that the national tree planting exercise will provide other ecosystems support functions such as water conservation.
Under this project, five million trees will be planted across the country in the next four years.
President Julius Maada Bio, First Lady Fatima Bio, Vice President Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, Cabinet and Deputy Ministers and other dignitaries that graced the occasion, all planted tress.
Bampia James Bundu
Strategic Communications Unit, Ministry of Information and Communications