Sierra Leone’s Nature has of late come under serious attack by greedy and unpatriotic citizens, as a result of illegal activities on the country’s historic tourism site of Outamba Kilimi National Park (OKNP) that serves as home to Elephants, Chimpanzees, Hippos, Buffalos, Maxwell Duikers, Water and Bush Bucks, Monkeys, Civets among other animals.
The Sierra Leone government on Friday 1st January 2010 issued a press release from State House, banning all logging activities in the country because there were a lot of illegal and unregistered forest operators surrounding the trade which saw government losing a lot of revenue.
In the release, government stated that, “Illegal logging is having an adverse effect on the country’s environment and depleting the ozone layer and must be stopped with immediate effect.”
There were fines attached to the ban for violators but two years after the ban, to the surprise of officials of the Conservation Society, the Environmental Protection officers and civil society was government lifting of the ban on timber for the exportation of stockpiles of timber within a given period.
This saw government’s declaration of 50 acres of land being set-up in all the identified districts for timber logging in the north, with management and monitoring structures of the activities for the registered 10 logging companies in West Africa and more than dozens were operating illegally.
Dr. Sama Mondeh, Executive Director of Conservation Society in Sierra Leone (CCSL) in his snappy press conference after Government lifted the ban on timber, said the decision to lift the ban was taken with limited consultation from them, pointing out that logging will cost Sierra Leone more in terms of environmental damage than it will bring into the country from forest operators (loggers).
One of the affected chiefdoms which logging had affected greatly is Tambakha in the Bombali district, north of the country, where the Outamba Kilimi National Park (OKNP) is located, embedded between Little and Great Scarcies that divides into Lolo and Mongo rivers which empties in the Kabba River.
Mining during the dry season, logging after the ban and hunting activities in the Government reserved areas poses serious threats to the wildlife conservation of Outamba Kilimi National Park.
Hassan Issa Kamara assistant site manager of OKNP did confirm that there are logging, mining and hunting activities on-going in the park, with a lot of power-saw and shot guns being arrested during their raid. He said mining and hunting are effective in the park during dry season stating that rains and EBOLA outbreak had helped in reducing mining and hunting in the park.
He said the Park is divided into two portions of Outamba Park where they have elephants, Hippos, and other animals and Kilimi South and North with 21 villages very close to the park. He said those villages between the park have been undergoing severe damage as a result of farming activities, hunting and serving as host to illegal loggers and miners.
He said Tuscy area along the river bank is presently being threatened by mining, prompting elephants to invade the camp site by the Little Scarcies, which according to him is harmful to the rangers and visitors if not controlled.
The Senior Artisanal Mining officer in Bombali district, Mohamed Kamara, said they are aware of the fact that OKNP is a reserved area which is why they are not issuing license to any small or large scale Miners. He said they will be embarking on a routine arrest of all Miners along the river bank of OKNP and anyone arrested will face the law.
There are no pure drinking water, approved government schools, qualified teachers, poor road network and no network coverage in the entire Tambakha Chiefdom including the Outamba Kilimi Park.
Illegal mining activities along the river bank is very difficult to address by the few Park Rangers because the illegal miners, loggers and hunters are equipped and large in number and can overcome the less than 20 rangers.
The National Research and Monitoring Expert of Biodiversity and Conservation Programme (BCP) Mohamed Sullay said they are presently trying to demarcate reserved areas across the country, thereby ensuring its protection from encroachers.
He said Outamba Kilimi National Park is constrained with 15 permanent Rangers and 3 volunteers to guard the forest and wildlife from hunting, logging and mining activities which according to him has been causing serious threat to the park.
Mohamed Sullay said they had made series of complains with regards encroachment into the park to various actors from the EPA to National Mineral Agency (NMA) and the district council stating that government reserved land especially the Outamba Kilimi National Park is a sensitive ecological areas.
He said the indiscriminate logging, wildfire and hunting has scared away animals in the wild, like Elephants as they have started visiting nearby villages.
Senior Environmental Officer and head of Northern region office for EPA, Alfred Alhaji Tejan Jondie, said all national reserved lands are ‘sensitive ecological areas’ that needs serious attention in protecting and securing them for immediate and long term benefits.
He said the 2008 EPA Act that was amended in 2010 gives them mandate to protect and look at everything that has the potential to damage the environment.
Alfred Alhaji Tejan Jondie said they have the mandate to issue Environmental Impact Assessment license to all mining, agricultural and other form of operations on the environment to ensure their operations did not have negative impact on the environment before being certified by National Minerals Agency.
He said development in whatever form must be guided to avoid social injustice for unborn children by protecting the environment before it is damaged.
Jondie said EPA and NMA will never issue licenses to any company to operate in government reserved lands across the country because all reserved areas have historic tourists’ attractions and a lot of benefits to the country and locals within those areas.
He urged them to be patient with government in securing the reservation by serving as an ambassador and guide for their children yet unborn.
Large Scale Mining and Complaints Manager North at the National Mineral Agency Yusuf Dauda Suma, said the 2009 Mineral Act covers everything about community development which requires each company involved in small and large scale mining to develop their operational chiefdom areas. He described mining activities around the park as illegal, stating that all mining around government reserved land are not issued with license because of the importance attached to those reserves.
The newly elected Paramount Chief for Tambakha chiefdom PC Kandeh Sorie Kakando III confirmed that there were heavy logging activities in his chiefdom before he was crown with absolutely no revenue for the chiefdom. He said all the forest operators were issued with license to cut trees for timber in his chiefdom with government logo on it, which according to him cannot be verified because of the non-availability of communication signals.
Paramount Chief said the trade on timber has helped in damaging all road networks within the chiefdom, as loggers used huge vehicles for the transportation of their logs from one point to the other.
He said in 1977, his late father was the first chief that allocated the said portion of land to be used as park to government but since then their people have been subjected to suffering, as a result of bad terrain with no health presence in most parts in his chiefdom.
The chief said the park will not be useful without road, mobile network coverage, pure and safe drinking water stating that government had developed most part of the country with the exception of his chiefdom. He urged government to provide basic facilities for his chiefdom to keep the National park to standard before the animals are scared away by demarcating no-go-areas.
The Senegalese road construction company CSE is presently surveying the chiefdom for the construction of Makeni-Guinea International highway that will pass through the chiefdom which according to many will help in addressing the road issue in that part of the country.
The National Research and Monitoring Expert of Biodiversity and Conservation Program said they are presently working on the demarcation of reserved land and that of community farm land and villages within the park.
He said they are thinking of how the 21 villages within the park will be relocated because they are posing serious threats to the wildlife and the park.
Alhaji Hassan Kamara of Samaya village in Tambakha chiefdom, said since the park was established in that part of the country, there is absolutely nothing their chiefdom can boast of benefiting from the park because their roads are bad and that government is stopping them from engaging in large scale farming.
He said they are depending on their land for livelihood pointing out that the park management cannot even afford providing good roads as their chiefdom only means of linkage with Sella chiefdom is through the ‘Kabba ferry.’
The chairman Bombali district council John Shanghai Koroma said as part of government strides to address the road in that part of his district and the Senegalese road construction company CSE is being contracted to construct an International road linking the country with Guinea via Tambakha chiefdom.
He said the road upon completion will be one of the best roads that will pass through the chiefdom which will also take other developmental programs to the chiefdom.
He said government has been able to provide health centres and security presence in some parts of the chiefdom porous border areas, pointing out that development is a process that takes time to occur but pointed clearly that the chiefdom is in their heart. He said he is not aware of issuing any license or permission of logging, mining or hunting in the park, stating that his council is committed in ensuring all illegal activities in the National park are halted.
By Mohamed Kabba
Wednesday June 25, 2014