Hill said that the panel discussion focused on the cause and effect, what can be learned from such dreadful disaster and how the media reports them, as he introduced Trudy Morgan as the moderator of the environmental forum discussion.
Trudy Morgan introduced the panelists which are the Communication and Education Director of the Environmental and Protection Agency (EPA)-James Tamba, Director – Environment Foundation for Africa- Tommy Garnett, Country Director- UNOPS- Nick Gardner, Coordinator of Operation Clean up Freetown- PJ Cole, Film Maker-Sinava- Barmmy Boy, Unreported Africa- Africa’s Perfect Storm- Seyi Rhodes and BBC Journalist in Sierra Leone- Umaru Fofanah.
Trudy commenced the discussion by questioning the basic functions and responsibilities of EPA, Tamba responded by saying that the EPA has been challenged with several issues relating to managing the environment , as head of the Education, Information and Communication Department he said one of his major responsibilities is to educating communities across the nation about their responsibilities to preserve the environment and on the verge of doing such education and sensitization the EPA has been confronted with several challenges, owing to the fact the EPA did not have the mandate to demolish any structure.
“When we engage community people who normally engage in deforestation, stone mining and building houses on reserve areas- one of the thing the encroachers tell us –is ‘this is what we do to earn our living’- so the issue of livelihood comes into play, as an environment protection agency we did not have the capacity to address that particular problem, and as a result of that even though we spread the message about the dangers engage in some of their practices-we found that all of our effort prove fruitless as they are still encroaching, deforesting and quarrying the country’s reserve lands…that is why we are appealing to the law enforcement agency, owing to the fact the EPA Act make the Agency handicapped, we did not have the mandate to demolish any structure…Two weeks before the August 14th disaster, we went to mount sugarloaf and engaged the community settlers on the issue of deforestation and they negatively responded to us that they are engaging in stone mining and coal burning to find their daily sustenance as well as educating our children” Tamba noted.
Tommy gave synopsis about the transformation of ECOWAS from a state to a sustainable communities, as he emphasized on Goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goals- It is critical that the natural resources base and ecosystems are managed sustainably to ensure that people’s food requirements and other social, economic, and environmental needs are sufficiently met. Climate change, conflicts over access to resources, and increased water scarcity all pose a threat to not only environmental sustainability but also food security.
As such, millennium development goal 7 has 4 targets:
1. To integrate the principles of sustainable development into every nation’s policies and programmes, and also reverse the depletion of environmental resources
2. To reduce biodiversity loss and achieve a substantial reduction in the rate of loss by 2010
3. To halve the proportion of the universal population without sustainable access to clean and safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
To achieve substantial improvement in the lives of a minimum of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. Tommy noted that in Sierra Leone there is no specific plan that tends to protect the environment but only responding to disaster, owing to the fact that the country had done less in the MDGs goals as the world is moving to Sustainable Development Goals.
Nick explained that the UNOPS has been mobilizing funding and supporting environmental related issues as well as serving as an emergency responders on the ground to rescue people from the August 14th mudslides, respond to the floods and prevent further disasters in at-risk areas. Rescue teams are working in difficult conditions, in many cases with limited access to resources.
“At UNOPS, we’re helping the response through coordinating drone mapping across the main mudslide and flooded areas,” said Nick Gardner, Head of UNOPS office in the country.
“By providing accurate data on the affected areas, we can contribute to a better understanding of how to prioritize emergency relief operations over the coming days”
Seyi questioned the effectiveness of the government of Sierra Leone environmental policies, he said that much have been saying but limited action have been taken to protect and promote the Sierra Leone’s environment from potential disaster. He said eight years ago during his first visits to Sierra Leone, the American Embassy was alone at Leicester Peak, at the moment he said the area is cluster with lots of houses. He therefore encouraged all stakeholders to come onboard including the community inhabitants and government ministries to control and preserve the environment.
PJ Cole stated that rubbish and waste in Freetown’s streets, waterways and gutters is polluting the environment and contaminating the city’s water, leading to an increase in diseases such as malaria, typhoid, diarrhea and also be the reason of countless flooding across Freetown city.
Freetown City Council and Western Area Rural District Council (WARD C) are working with the President’s Delivery Team, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Freetown WASH consortium on Operation Clean Freetown (OCF). Cole noted. He emphasized that his organization has been engaged in the thorough cleaning of Freetown city and so far there has been result in the Western Area Urban he said.
Barmmy Boy the filmmaker narrated that his movie Sinava-meaning for tomorrow tends to raise awareness amongst Sierra Leoneans about the trending climate change in Sierra Leone as well educating and sensitizing community inhabitants about the hazard of deforestation, quarrying and encroaching upon the country’s reserve lands.
Umaru encouraged Sierra Leoneans to report Sierra Leone with honesty and completeness; owing to the fact the traditional media no longer have monopoly over media reportage as a result of the exigency of social media. He emphasized that disaster prone areas are visible in Sierra Leone and people as well as the appropriate authorities are disregarding it.
“…If you go to Mount Sugar Loaf and look to right hand side there is a sign board that says the area is a reserve forest area. That signboard was like 80 or meters down, they kept pushing it up and there was a small security post there, they kept pushing it up- depending on who acquiring the land they will push it up with complete disregard for the oblivious… they have been warned not to build there. Dating back to pre-independent there is a decree for that area to be solely for tree planting not cutting, so if you are applying bulldozers and deforesting the foot of the mountain, you are simply amputating the mountain and I know a lot of senior government officials that owing property there…” Umaru ascertained. Ironically these are the people that supposed to live by example as he noted that it a shame for a city that was founded 200 hundred years ago still planning for it cleaning. He emphasized that there should be a permanent institution that should be charged with responsibility to clean Freetown city, not operations that are keeping on failing as he made reference to operation weed.
The environmental forum climaxed with an interactive question and answer session where the country’s only pathologist Dr. Simeon Owizz Koroma stated that most state institution did not have respect for expert and expertise and as a result of that the masses in the country are feeling the soupcon. The Mayor of Freetown, Frankly Bode Gibson emphasized on the necessity of state institutions to collaborate in order to achieve one common goal as he cited the provision on the Local Government Act of 2004.