By Mohamed J. Bah, Awoko Newspaper
Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – In response to escalating illegal mining activities at Lake Sonfon, a globally recognized heritage site in Koinadugu, the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources, in collaboration with the National Minerals Agency (NMA), conducted a site visit during the weekend. Lake Sonfon, known for its diverse species and scenic beauty, has become a victim of illegal activities such as bush burning, deforestation, and unauthorized mining, posing a serious threat to its once-pristine condition.
The Deputy Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources, Umaru Napoleon Koroma, expressed concern over the degradation of Lake Sonfon and emphasized the need for urgent action to protect this invaluable natural resource. The weekend visit included top officials from the Ministry of Mines, NMA, NPAA, the Resident Minister, Abu Abu Koroma, and local authorities.
Confirming the illegal mining activities, Mr. Napoleon Koroma stated, “As I speak to you now, illegal mining is taking place right inside Lake Sonfon, that is where I’m standing. This is all part of the lake.” The perpetrators are yet to be identified, and investigations are underway, despite locals providing names.
In response to the situation, the Ministry and its team initiated preliminary measures, including the deployment of military and police personnel around the lake to prevent further illegal mining. Mr. Napoleon affirmed, “Our main target for this visit today is for the protection of Lake Sonfon. Lake Sonfon has to be protected, and we’re going to ensure that happens this time around.”
The immediate concern is the proliferation of shacks built by squatters around the lake, which the Minister emphasized must be eradicated to restore sanity to this tourist destination. The President’s interest in the environmental issues around the lake prompted these proactive measures, with plans for the President to visit Lake Sonfon once protective measures are in place.
Isaac Kallon, the Regional Manager for the Northern Region of NMA, acknowledged the ongoing challenges around the lake. He highlighted efforts taken to protect the lake, including reporting illegal activities to appropriate authorities.
“This particular location we cannot issue a license for here, because, this is a protected area. It is complete illegal mining, no argument about it and nobody claims to have a permit,” Mr Kallon said.
The Executive Director of the National Protected Area ( NPAA), Thomas Fayiah Kamara lamented ” I’m really surprised to see Sierra Leoneans destroying their heritage site. I have been hearing about this lake since we were all born.”
Local Section Chief Ibrahim Kanku Yirrah Turay welcomed the visit, expressing concerns about illegal mining activities and alleged collections of money to allow unauthorized mining.
The nearest towns are Kabala which is 60 km to the north and Benugu which is 40 km to the south. It is located in the hills of the Sula Mountains at an altitude of 549m (1,801 ft) above sea level. Lake Sonfon drains from its southern end, which forms the start of the Pampana River, and is fed by seven small streams with its water level varying considerably during the year. The Lake has a maximum depth of 8m (26 ft) and with an area of 8.2 km2 (3.2 sq mi) is Sierra Leone’s largest inland lake. MJB/23/1/2024