By: Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya
First it was at the Lakka and Hamilton communities and beaches; now it is gaining momentum in all the beaches along the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve. Truck drivers are desperately moving from one beach to the other in search of sand for their daily sale to construction sites, and the Chinese and Senegalese construction companies are also moving to these pristine beaches for the white and shiny sand.
Sand mining has destroyed many houses in the Hamilton and Lakka Communities. Tourists, visitors and houses and restaurant owners have all been driven away due to the continuous sand mining that was taking place in these communities.
Pa. Santigie Kargbo, a truck driver at the Goderich sand-truck station said “we are doing this because the government has put a ban on taking sand in Lakka and we have to go far away to John Obay and other beaches because we want to make money”.
The Peninsular beaches are located deep west of the capital city of Freetown and stretching from 11-40km to the Waterloo communities. On my way to these pristine beaches, I counted twelve heavy trucks loaded with sand coming from the Black Johnson and John Obay beaches while returning late in the evening, twenty of the trucks were going to load sand in preparation for the early morning supply to buyers.
However, modernization is what all are set to see happening in the country, but this is now a threat to the environment as the construction companies have cleared large portion of the Peninsular Forest for road access to extract sand and for quarrying purposes.
The Government of Sierra Leone through the Sierra Leone Roads Authority has awarded a contract to the Senegalese CSE construction company to rehabilitate the road linking Lumley and York Communities in the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve.
Although the road work by the CSE Company has implications to the beautiful forest reserve, the authorities (both the government of Sierra Leone and the construction Company) are not taking the necessary measures in addressing the situation.
The Environment Protection Act of 2008 allows all construction companies to undertake Environment Impact Assessment licenses but this is not the case for the Chinese Companies and CSE despite warning letters from the environment regulator and watchdog, the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone.
State House and the Office of the President who want to see rapid infrastructural development in the country have ordered the Western Area Rural District Council (WARDC) to allow the construction Companies collect sand in the communities without any disturbance and hiccups.
The Chairman for the WARDC, Alhajie Cole was quoted in the villages to have authorized the truck drivers to load sand in the beaches.
The CSE Company has just cleared large portion of land and the beautiful trees in search of sand in the Baw-Baw community.
Every day they collect sand and because of this the Baw-Baw community where the Company has installed its quarrying plant has protested over the continuous extraction of sand from their beach.
The Head of the Baw-Baw village Mr. Gibrilla Kargbo stated that Alhasan Cole informed them to allow the CSE Company to load sand in their community; he also informed the community that they will be paid, but this has not been done.
Mr. Gibrilla Kargbo however noted that “we will not allow any Company to take sand in our community and even CSE will not be allowed as we are looking out for a better future for ourselves and our children”.
But Pa. Foday Bangura who stays at a guest house occupied by the Group 4 Security in the Baw-Baw community maintained that because the CSE Company has cleared the way to the beach,
John Obay, Black Johnson, and other communities are located around the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve. The Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve (WAPFOR) project is spending millions of Leones to these communities in order to frustrate activities that will hamper the forest and the environment in which they live. But this is not yielding much with the communities.
When this writer and officials from the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone where on a monitoring mission of the community, they counted lots of vehicles which had collected lots of sand in the community.
“We are given the green light to sell this sand to truck drivers”, said Mohamed Sesay a member and youth of Big-Wata community. Mohamed said “the Chairman for the Western Area Rural District Council informed us that we must ask the sand buyers to pay small amount to the Rural District Council”.
While members of the EPA-SL and police officers were busy educating the youths on the impact and implication of sand mining in their village, the youths were busy loading the trucks for their daily sustenance. After making money from the sand, “we will consider stopping selling the sand to the buyers” Mohamed said.
An ecotourism group which describes itself as eco-warriors and cares for the forest, beaches and illegal trawling in the Sierra Leone waters will definitely not want the continuous sand mining in their locality. A British national and Director for Tito’s Paradise Eco Lodge, Madam Jane Gbandewa who stays very close where the sand is being loaded at Big-Wata described the sand mining activity as “both terrible for the environment but also for the local fishermen and for the new tourist business that has been developed on this beach over the last couple of years”.
She noted that any hour of the day big trucks come to the beach and load sand.
Jane said “Tito’s Paradise Eco-Lodge is run as a communal venture, and the business pays for the schooling of all the secondary school boys who work down here (school fees, uniforms, transport books etc)”.
She adds, “If this business is affected adversely, none of these boys would be able to continue with their education”.
If the sand mining continues to destroy Big Wata Beach, Jane and Tito will have to remove some of their structures on the beach. “We will not be able to promote the business in the same way which speaks about the peace and tranquility and the rich natural life down here”.
Jane and Tito are both dedicated to protecting the environment and promoting the country generally. “We have pride in being Eco Warriors actively protecting the environment for our future generations”.
Tamba Nyakeh, an Environment Officer for the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, said sand mining if allowed in these beaches will have great impact and consequences for the communities around the beaches. The sea level will rise and this will destroy the natural beauty of the beaches and communities.
Residents and visitors who know and have stayed for long along these beaches gave their opinions and what they foresee happening in the beaches. Madam Safiatu Kamara said “John Obay is a fine beach where water normally overflows during all seasons but if sand mining is allowed to take effect in this community in the name of development, the consequences will be seen in the community very soon”.
And of course, this will drive the potential tourists coming to the beach”.
With heavy trucks loading sand in communities at the pristine beaches on a daily basis, the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone must take firm action in coming out with concrete recommendations.
This will definitely be a test case for the EPA-SL if they will not be influenced by the Office of the President and other stakeholders who are presently in need of infrastructural development while allowing the Construction companies not to take EIA licenses.
But once they are influenced, the country which was once recognized for its beautiful beaches around the Peninsular will be lost and history will have to repeat itself in destroying houses like in the Lakka and Hamilton communities.
This article is produced through the assistance of:
Standard Times Environment, Sierra Leone Environmental Journalists Association (SLEJA) and the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone (EPA-SL)