The Senior Regional Environmental Officer of Sierra Leone’ s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA-SL), Aiah Kembay, said that the increase in human settlements in Crab Town and other areas is posing a serious threat to the ecological health of the creek.
He linked last year’ s flash floods in Freetown – which destroyed homes, property and displaced many people along the coastal areas – with widespread environmental degradation across the city, including the clearing of mangroves, deforestation, climate change and unsustainable human activities.
Kembay warned that unless action was taken now, there would be even more severe consequences in the future. He said that was the reasoning behind the government’s decision in 2015 to demolish settlements in Aberdeen Creek.
The community leader of Crab Town in Aberdeen, Chief Bai Kelly, said residents of the community have been occupying the settlement for over 20 years through the process of land reclamation. He said that many people lost their homes as a result of the demolition in September 2015, and argued that the government did not consult the community before the demolition exercise. Nor did they provide any alternative plans to relocate the residents.
He said residents in the community are mostly engaged in fishing and petty trade as their primary source of income.
Chief Bai Kelly also noted that they have been paying taxes to the Freetown City Council for their houses, which are recognized by the Council.
The Chief questioned the selective nature of the exercise citing instances of much larger buildings and fenced compounds that were spared during the demolition, some of which are located in the mangroves. He said after the demolition, President Ernest Koroma visited the site and promised to consider the issue of relocation, but nothing has been done so far.
“Our people are now jobless and have no means of survival since they don’t even have a place to stay. This has made life terrible for us,” he said.
A victim of the demolition, Mabinty Mansaray, said that she had still not found alternative accommodation. She explained that she is not alone; many others had been forced to squat in some of the demolished structures with their families. Not only have families been displaced by the demolition, but children too have been forced to abandon school.
“They are only telling us now that this place is meant for fish to breed but when it is election time nobody mentions that to us during the campaigns. I know fish don’t vote in elections,”Mabinty said.
Aberdeen is also a popular tourist destination in Freetown.
In the 60s and 70s, tourism in Sierra Leone accounted for nearly 45% of government revenue, making a significant contribution to the development of the country. For more than three decades, however, the tourism industry in the country has seen a sharp decline, due in part to the decade long war and the recent Ebola outbreak.
Some of the major problems affecting tourism in Sierra Leone include weak infrastructure and the increasing environmental costs associated with human activities: sand mining on the beaches, illegal fishing in the coastal areas and the destruction of wetlands for fuel wood and construction are all contributing to widespread environmental degradation and pollution.
The General Manger of the National Tourist Board, Yassim Kargbo, reiterated that the government had made a difficult, but necessary decision to demolish informal housing at Crab Town in Aberdeen Creek. He said the settlement was an ‘eye sore’ to tourists and was also having an adverse impact on Aberdeen Creek and Lumley Beach.
On the issue of providing alternative livelihoods for local people, Kargbo said they are collaborating with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports to develop a program to clean the beaches. He said the employment scheme will enable them to collect and convert the seaweed littering the beaches into manure which can be used as fertilizer. He said community people would be given priority during the employment process allowing them to receive income to support their families. It is almost one year since the demolition of Aberdeen Creek took place and some local residents have yet to secure alternative accommodation and livelihoods.
Freetown based Conservation Ecologists, Arnold Okoni-Williams wrote in an article on wetlands that the rate of mangrove deforestation has accelerated over the last two decades as a result of the rapid population growth across the Freetown Peninsula. He said weak political will coupled with a limited national budget for environmental issues are hampering the satiation.
He said the rehabilitation of mangrove forests through planting or natural regeneration will contribute to restoring the ecological integrity of mangrove sites.