Forest loss threatens Sierra Leone water supplies

Mon Mar 7, 2011 7:13am EST
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By Simon Akam

FREETOWN (Reuters Life!) - The slopes of Leicester Peak, a protected rainforest on a hill above Sierra Leone's capital, are a jumble of haphazard development and half-finished villas.

Concrete buildings cluster against a tangle of trees and vines -- a construction site in a forest reserve that supplies the city of Freetown with its water and where building is meant to be banned.

It highlights a common problem across Africa, where efforts to halt forest loss are routinely flouted, often with the consent of a cash-strapped government or corrupt officials.

"There is a huge encroachment," said Jochen Moninger, who works for the German NGO Welthungerhilfe on a project to preserve the forest. "By the law of Sierra Leone no settlement, no activity is supposed to happen in these areas."

And house building is the least of the worries facing Sierra Leone's forests -- which like many neighbors in Africa's humid, forested belt are being plundered for logs and charcoal or cleared for rice fields to feed one of Africa's poorest nations.

According to a United Nations report in 2008, the African continent is losing forest at a rate of more than 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) per year - twice the world average.

Data from the Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) shows Sierra Leone lost 19,000 ha or 0.7 percent per year of forest from 2000 to 2005, as it emerged from a brutal civil war.

Freetown, a rundown, palm-fringed capital with a population of just over a million, has a water deficit of 12 million gallons (55 million liters) per day.   Continued...