Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – In the aftermath of COP28, the spotlight turns to Sierra Leone, where the environmental organization Green Scenery, spearheading the Act Climate Change Today Campaign (ACCT) Group, voices grave concerns over the alarming rate of deforestation, particularly in the Western Area Peninsula Forest National Park (WAPNaP). Joseph Rahall, the Executive Director of Green Scenery, underscores the urgency of taking proactive steps to address the imminent environmental crisis.
During a recent press conference, Rahall revealed shocking statistics, disclosing that Sierra Leone lost over 80,000 hectares of forest cover in 2019 due to the illegal exportation of slow-growing rosewood trees. The situation worsened in 2022, with a staggering 120,000 hectares of tree cover lost, releasing an estimated 63.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The focus of ACCT’s current concern lies in the degradation of the Western Area Peninsula Forest National Park. Rahall emphasizes that, despite the government’s commitment to planting 5 million trees within five years, there is little evidence of progress in the WAPNaP. Instead, the park faces massive deforestation due to settlements’ expansion, rock mining, logging, and charcoal burning, all in direct violation of the National Protected Area Act of 2012.
FAO reports from 2022 indicate that 2,850 hectares of forest cover were lost in WAPNaP, while a more recent report from WEP/AIMS in 2023 reveals a further loss of 195 hectares in just six months.
The rapid degradation of WAPNaP poses severe consequences for Sierra Leone. Rahall emphasizes the pivotal role of the Freetown forest as a major water source for the region. “If that forest goes, there’s going to be no water for Freetown and its environment for sure,” he warns.
Beyond water scarcity, the depletion of WAPNaP threatens endangered species, temperature moderation in the western area, control of storm surges and floods, as well as soil erosion. The delicate balance of ecosystem services is at risk.
ACCT is calling for immediate action from both the Sierra Leone government and international partners. Among the key recommendations are the review and amendment of environmental policies, ratification and domestication of laws and instruments on environment and climate change, the formulation of a national climate change Act, and the enforcement of environmental and climate policies and laws.
Additionally, ACCT urges international partners and civil society organizations to provide technical and financial support, coordinate climate change actions, and implement initiatives for reforestation and other nature-based solutions.
The clock is ticking, and as Rahall concludes, “Water is life. We cannot afford to lose our lifeline, our forests.” The ACCT Group remains committed to ensuring that Sierra Leone takes the necessary steps to avert the impending environmental catastrophe. OG/02/01/2024