By Mustapha Sesay
The incidence of Landslide, heavy storm, flooding and pollution in urban areas or the cities are being viewed by many as a result of man’s unplanned activities on the natural resources.
The rapid growth of the urban population in Sierra Leone could be linked to the Rebel War Era, when there was forced migration of the rural communities to the cities and other provincial towns, thereby putting considerable pressure on the resources and facilities in these places.
At the end of the war, most of the youths deliberatly refused returning to the villages to continue their farming as some were engaged in petty trading while in the camps.
As most were unskilled or could not secure a decent office job, including the high cost of renting houses, the option to many was to reside in the slum areas (along the coastal areas or mountanious regions) that were overcrowded and lacked the basic facilities.
During that period, there was massive deforestation as some turned to the buring of coal, cutting mangrove wood, as the government was more focused on fighting the war rather than with administrative issues.
With this, many took the advantage of even banking the swamps or the watershed areas to build their houses.
As tress in protected forest areas were cut down, houses sprouted up along the hills exposing the land to environmental hazards.
In the city of Freetown, a lot of challenges were envisaged by the Guma Valley Dam that supplies the city and its environs with pure drinking water.
The water service delivery mechanism was not effective as the population trippled the targeted number that the dam was to provide affordable water for. The pipe lines were obstructed (cut) by the marginalized population to scoop water, thereby depriving those that were paying water bills for their houses.
This in other words deprived the government of the needed income to generate in meeting the cost of water service delivery.
The situation was worsened by the lack of effective policy implementation to halt this negative practice of misusing the water service distribution to various destinations.
With the growth of the urban population, there was massive encroachment of the water catchment areas, more so in places closer to the dams which in turn exposed the water reservoirs to a high rate of evaporation, pollution and deforestation.
At the end of the war, several sensitization programs by the government and key stakeholders were conducted to raise the awareness on the implications of man’s negative activities on the environment and its implications.
Most activities like deforestation, land degradation, pollution, and unplanned construction exposed the country to a lot of natural disasters like the recent flooding in many parts of the country, including the one that hit the city of Freetown on 16th September, 2015
The 16th September flooding was one the worst ever recorded in the history of the country. As confirmed reports indicated, eight people lost their lives and properties worth billions were destroyed.
Although there are plans to relocate these affected communities on the outskirts of the city, we are yet to see if they will not go back to the same disaster prone areas as it had happened in the past.
Urbanization is a challenging issue for government and stakeholders in meeting the needs of these slum places especially in implementing laws that would halt man’s activities to protect and preserve the environment and ensure effective water governance structural operations.
Though people are aware of the relevance of the preservation of the mangrove swamps, yet the demand to own a house has forced many to destroy these places and bank them to build houses.
On the hill slopes and water catchment areas tree felling and indiscriminate construction work exposed the land to environmental hazards while the dams are subjected to pollution, evaporation and water shortage.
The aspect of deforestation is a concern as the country continues to experience heavy storms that destroy houses in many parts of the country whilst boulders rolled down the mountains to destroy houses and lives.
Although the Ministry of Agriculture is making frantic efforts in the communities to plant trees not much has been done towards that drive.
The growth of the urban population is impacting on the quality of the water and health and sanitation facilities in our communities.
In slum areas, the indiscriminate digging of boreholes without taking cognizance of safety precautions is a concern as most of these places are dug closer to poor sewage facilities. Poor water service delivery will affect the health status of the masses as it will serve as a breeding ground for the transition of water born diseases.
To address the impact of urbanization of the utilization of the natural resources, there is the need to re-examine our laws governing the construction of unplanned structures in the slum areas or national protected areas and put mechanisms in place to halt this type of practice.
It is good to ensure that at each stage of the deliberations, the stakeholders are involved so that their input will help to prevent residing in disaster prone areas.
The Line Ministries like Housing, Lands, Water and Agriculture must collaborate in ensuring that the safety of the people is a must in implementing policies with regards to housing water service delivery and environmental practices.
Water is a basic human right, as a result structures must be put in place to ensure that deprived communities are catered for.
It must be noted that in a situation where this is not met there is bound to be local conflict between the people and the providers.
It would be good in the interest of all to be planting trees in our communities and farms as this will help in halting natural disasters and provide the much needed water reserve.