BY ISHMAEL KINDAMA DUMBUYA
Wandering through a vehicle along major rivers of Sierra Leone in the north, North-West, south and eastern regions, one is perturbed by many anthropogenic or human-induced activities on the motherland. And you would surely miss out the lustrous naturally endowed and overflowing whirls of fresh waters that were once admirable when one crosses these streams of fulfilling natural beauty and ecological endowments.
Decades ago, before the concentration of unsustainable artisanal gold mining activities along our river beds, the fresh whirls of these waters in these naturally flowing streams such as the River Pampana in the North, the Sewa and Jong Rivers in the East in addition to a host of other rivers and streams seem like a shadow of glory for the present and future generations. Today, all these natural sceneries and precious resources such as water are being altered and depleted as a result of man’s insatiable quest for natural resources found underneath these riverbeds including gold and diamonds through unsustainable mining practices.
August 2020, the Executive Chairman of the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Bondi Gevao conducted a monitoring of illegal gold mining activities along the Pampana River, Northern Sierra Leone and showing dislike of what he was seeing
Unfortunately, these unsustainable mining practices in our riverbeds and riverbanks are not only being carried out by Sierra Leoneans alone but also by foreign nationals. These foreign nationals being the beneficiaries of these acts of destruction of our natural resources and nature prefer to violate our mining and environmental laws with impunity with the connivance of few Sierra Leoneans and return back to their home countries.
Staff of the Environment Protection Agency have witnessed multiple times during regular field operations and monitoring activities where some local communities would provide shelter and protection for foreigners of countries like Ghana, China, Ivory Coast and Liberia from being arrested and prosecuted by law enforcement officers. Staff have also encountered serious confrontations from these community people who would rather instigate violence and pelt stones on government officers and use abusive language against them for simply ensuring sustainable exploitation of natural resources and preventing degradation of the environment and its attendant consequences.
What is worth noting is that the protection of Sierra Leone’s natural resources and the environment in general is guaranteed and sanctioned by law which every Sierra Leonean or residents of the country must comply with. The Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone (EPA is the main government agency responsible for the protection and management of the environment. The Agency also plays a key role in conducting investigations on environmental issues and advises the government of Sierra Leone as stipulated in section 12(k) of the EPA Act of 2008. The 2008 Act also makes it an offence for any person to prevent an authorized officer to perform his lawful functions.
River pollution, especially with the use of dredges, other polluting mining equipment and chemical substances such as mercury and hydrocarbons, is a major issue affecting local communities across Sierra Leone. Most of the residents in areas such as the Pampana River, Moa River, Great and Little Scarcies among others complain of the wanton destruction of their sources of drinking waters in the streams as a result of unsustainable artisanal mining activities using dredges and other water polluting equipment thereby posing serious and eminent threats to lives both on land and below water and depriving communities of much needed water for drinking, cooking and other domestic uses.
The Government has made great efforts to address this menace. In the Presidential Brief of 7th June 2021, His Excellency the President and Chairman of the National Security Council issued a policy directive to the security sector to stem the ongoing pollution of the major water bodies as a result of mining activities along and in river beds across the country. After the issuance of the Presidential Policy Directive, a committee consisting the EPASL was setup to carry out the President’s directive to stem the pollution of waters across the country.
The committee was charged, among other things, with the responsibility of conducting joint monitoring exercises and raids along polluted rivers and destroy all dredges and other water polluting mining equipment found along and on river beds. Since its establishment in 2021, the Committee through the leadership of the EPASL, has destroyed more than two hundred (200) dredges found within and around our riverbeds and our riverbanks across the country.
As patriotic citizens who care about the present and future of their country, all Sierra Leoneans, particularly those living in riverine communities, must endeavor to protect the riverbanks and riverbeds to secure a sustainable future for all which is the key objective the Environmental Protection Agency is working tirelessly to achieve.