Effects of Climate Change in Sierra Leone


February 2, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin

Daundra street flooded  after a heavy rainfall
Daundra street in Freetown flooded after a heavy rainfall

Climate change refers to an increase in average global temperatures. Natural events and human activities such as deforestation, increasing population pressure, intensive agricultural land use, overgrazing, bush burning, extraction of fuel wood and other biotic resources are believed to be contributing to an increase in average global temperatures. This is caused primarily by increases in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

Sierra Leone is experiencing adverse climate conditions with negative impacts on the welfare of millions of Sierra Leoneans. Flooding during the raining season, off season rains and dry spells have sent growing seasons out of orbit; on a country dependent on a rain fed agriculture. Alarm bells are ringing. Lakes are drying up. There is reduction in river flow. The water table is at its lowest ebb. The red flag is up. No one is talking. The warnings are being dismissed. It’s been business as usual.

The result is fewer water supplies for use in agriculture, hydro power generation and other domestic purposes. The main suspect for all this havoc is climate change. This has been confirmed following release of the 4th IPCC Assessment report. Africa will be worst hit by the effects of climate change. Sierra Leone not exempted.

The agricultural sector contributes about 47.9% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and agriculture is the largest employer of labour with 80% of the population working in the sector. The dominant role of agriculture makes it obvious that even minor climate deteriorations can cause devastating socioeconomic consequences.

According to the National Export Strategy, Sierra Leone has a comparative advantage over other countries in terms of its export resources and potential in diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee and fish. Sierra Leone is practically monoculture, with over 80% of the government income, 90-95% of the export earnings and more than 90% of the foreign exchange revenues coming from the agricultural and mining sectors. The Sierra Leone national economy would be hugely affected by a sustainable reduction occasioned by climate change.

However, the country’s political and public discussions are barely addressing the mentioned problems. The last couple of months have been so much dominated by internal and external questions on how to contain and defeat the dreaded and rampaging Ebola virus insomuch that political issues as regards content or even specific problems like the climate change would not have attracted real attention within and outside the circle of government, experts or development partners.

Furthermore, problems and solution strategies of climate change do not generate great publicity effects as they are too complex for rather superficial political talks. Sierra Leone’s development plan does not recognize the economics alongside environmental threat which climate change poses to the country and the menace it will have on the country’s GDP. These should also illicit more urgent worries.

Climate change is systemically becoming an unprecedented threat to food security. Climate change means that many dry areas are going to get drier and wet areas are going to get wetter. The disproportionate impact on Sierra Leone will be a combination of reasons. Climate change will be greater over land than over sea because land retains heat more than water. There is also increasing evidence that Sierra Leone will be particularly hit by the effect of vertical rises and falls in air currents. We are going to be caught between the devil of droughts and the deep blue seas of floods – a ‘great tragedy’.

While climate change is a problem caused by economic activity of the rich industrial countries, Sierra Leone has continued to pay ‘lip service’ to it, although she appended her signatory at the December 2009 Copenhagen Accord as a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Unless climate change is tackled with all the ‘best efforts’, this great country could come to nothing due to the growing climate unpredictability. The impact of the change will be difficult to handle. It will be potentially long and lasting – it will be very serious.

Although a global phenomenon, climate change often appears very esoteric. In Sierra Leone, it is evident – it is no fairy tales. We are witnesses to the negative impacts such as increasing incidence of diseases, temperature rise, erratic rainfall, heat wave, low agricultural yield, drying up of water bodies, mudslides and flooding. There is glaring evidence that climate change is not only happening; it is changing our lives. Our women and children are particularly the most vulnerable to these impacts which have now become a major threat to our collective existence.

Declining rainfall in already climate change prone areas in Sierra Leone is alarming. Arable lands are now empty. People in the coastal areas who used to depend on fishing have seen their source of livelihoods threatened by the fluctuating ocean current. This has given rise to increasing population pressure in the urban cities, intensive agricultural land use, overgrazing, bush burning, extraction of fuel wood and other biotic resources.

Amidst all these, there is a silver lining. A better planning to reduce the risk from disasters and developing agricultural best practices that can withstand changing climates have been shown to work and could help mitigate the impact if used more widely. The scientific evidence on climate change is strengthening daily, and there are risks over and above those that are usually considered.

Adapting to climate variability and mitigating its impacts is something that we ought to be doing in our everyday lives, but we have to understand what climate change is before we contribute to it; and then we can adapt alongside reduce our vulnerabilities.

Urgent attention needs to be placed on climate change. First, there is a need to suggest a mechanism for tackling climate change. Carbon sinks should be used to soak up carbon dioxide. This can be achieved through afforestation – establishment of a forest or stand of trees in an area where there was no forest, and reforestation – planting of new forests. Deforestation – clearing of trees; transforming a forest into cleared land should be discouraged and discontinued forthwith. This is a popular practice by the logging industry in nations with large forests interests, like Sierra Leone.

Thus, government should improve financial allocation to finding solutions to curb this menace, because inadequate funds hamper progress in achieving climate change objectives. The government and all stakeholders involved in the global phenomenon need to increase public awareness, promote research and establish a viable commission or an agency that will handle issues related to climate change – beyond merely setting up a secretariat. All tiers of government, international agencies and development partners are required to increase funding to climate change projects in Sierra Leone for sustainable solution.