Land grabbing around the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve is presently intensifying primarily for housing purposes. The Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security is directly responsible for the protection of forests in the country and through the dedicated collaboration of the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone as focal agency for the protection of all the environment in the country, have on the 5th of March 2013 decided to undertake a robust assessment about the level of deforestation in the western area forest reserve either for dwelling houses or for finite concentration of charcoal burning in the protected forests.
The assessment around the Peninsular Forest Reserve consisted of more than thirty representatives from the Sierra Leone Police, the EPA-SL, officials from the Ministry of Forestry, Foresters and members of the media. Prior to the day of the assessment, EPA-SL officials were first attacked and threatened to be taught bitter lessons by hoodlums and land grabbers but on the 5th of March, a completely armed officers of the Operational Support Division were part of the operation serving as Police Assistance during the assessment around the Peninsular.
During the operations, the delegation tour many places in the bush where people are presently engaged on brushing the thick forest beyond the buffer zones and the newly established demarcation line that was recognized by the government of Sierra Leone and the more than fifty Communities around the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve.
It could be recalled that the Welthungerhilfe (WHH) and the European Union have spent more than two million and five hundred thousand European currency to help in livelihood of the communities around the forest from 2009 to 2013. During such process since the communities wanted to gain from the livelihood package provided by WAPFOR, they signed and temporarily adhered to memorandum and by-laws compiled by themselves during the project days. The WAPFOR project has come to an end and because of this; it is becoming crystal clear that the communities and land grabbers are making use of such opportunity to increase the massive land encroachment in the forest reserve.
It was a big surprise in the thick forest by all those who were present. During the tour around the Peninsular Forest, the delegation discovered massive erection of pillars in areas covering more than twenty hectares in the thick protected forest around and between Number 2 River and Tokeh Communities. Security Officers were wild in the bush in search of anyone suspected to have authorised or involve in deforesting the Western Area Forest at the Number 2 River but most of the suspects ran away. Only two Charcoal burners were arrested while a man ran away leaving his power-saw behind. The Power saw was apprehended and handed over to the Ministry of Forestry by Foresters and Police Officers. Few bags of charcoals were apprehended as exhibits.
Along with the delegation on Wednesday is the Director of the Environment Protection agency who is deeply concern about the massive land grabbing and deforestation of the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve. Dr. Kolleh Bangura this time decided to influence the Director of Forestry to make a joint venture in the thick bush. He told Standard Times that his Agency is “extremely concern about the massive deforestation and if get the support of other stakeholders, they will work towards ensuring the Western Area Peninsular is protected for the people of Sierra Leone”. Dr. Kolleh said they must “chase out the perpetrators and hand them to the appropriate authorities for action”. For the past apprehensions and arrests, allege perpetrators had always been handed to the Police for appropriate action but there is always criticisms from environmentalists and members of the public after release of such persons without action. But Dr. Kolleh said “there are different times and different regimes” pointing out and promising that this time, they will do their best.
While the grabbers were running to the bush, Dr. Kolleh said if they are the rightful owners, they could not have runaway without showing their proper documents. He vindicates the Ministry of Lands Country Planning and the Environment from not had given them the authorities to construct pillars beyond the green belt/demarcation boundary but bacons are visible around with one numbered SL03118PB4.
There have always been accusations about the forestry ministry’s non proactive measures towards protecting the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve. The Director of Forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food security, Mr. William Bangura said “all perpetrators will face the full penalty of the law. We are going to find them out and bring them to book. We are going to send a strong message to anyone we catch for others to learn lessons”
While the delegation was returning home, the Minister of Lands Country Planning and the Environment, Musa Tarawalie was spotted also going around the Peninsular along with investors and high powered Ministry officials. It is not yet clear as to what their mission was on that evening.
The Peninsular Forest is the main source of water for communities in greater Freetown and home for many animals and migratory birds and protecting it is a necessity. The EPA-SL and the Forestry Department has undertaken a commendable venture but having to take a robust action to demolish makeshifts structures and pillars already installed after the newly established demarcation boundary need a strong heart from the Ministry of Lands and the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security.