| Caroline Long | Septembre 2019 |

 

Sierra Leone is one of the many countries in Africa too often associated with mineral exploitation, disease epidemics and a legacy of civil war. It is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental challenges. Crédit photo : Caroline Long

 

Saving the landscape

Sierra Leone is a breath-taking country on the West coast of Africa, with pristine stretches of coconut-lined beaches lying at the foot of mountains draped in tropical forest. However, Sierra Leone is one of the many countries on the continent more often associated with mineral exploitation, disease epidemics and its legacy of civil war. This enduring impression only captures half the story and does nothing good for this otherwise hidden gem. The country is now stable, but fragile, and it is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental challenges that risk destroying its stunning landscape and the livelihoods of those who depend on it.

 

Having a future

On one of my many trips to the North of the country, to a district which accounts for most of the 3% of remaining original forest, our car passed no less than sixteen fully loaded timber trucks on one small mud road. A sad sight that makes you wonder how many tons of illegally sourced timber are felled daily across the country. Similarly, weekend trips to the beach invariably include giving way to sand trucks transporting the spoils of the extensive sand mining operations happening all along the coast.  These are just some examples of the unregulated environmentally destructive practices taking place. In a country where money is power and corruption is rampant, the voices of those defending the environment are few and largely ignored. In combination with global climate change and its impacts, the country’s future is not looking too bright.

 

Learning to prevent

The journey that brought me to Sierra Leone began at Lund University in Sweden. I went there to study an emerging field – disaster risk management and climate change adaptation. Rather than focusing just on first response and dealing with a disaster after it strikes, this Masters programme is unique in that it puts more emphasis on prevention and preparedness. The trend is clear : when the climate changes, disasters follow. The global challenge is to make both people and infrastructure more resilient and prepared for increasingly frequent and intense climate events, so that these remain events and not disasters. My professional goal is to combine this with climate justice and working towards a more sustainable societal model which does not negatively impact our environment – or the environment of those living in developing countries.

 

European Aid programme

Through the EU Aid Volunteer programme, I got a post with Trócaire in Sierra Leone where over the past year I have been working with local civil society organisations to build their capacity for climate change adaptation. Most activities happen in the villages, where the majority of people depend on a stable and predictable climate for their agricultural work. Helping them sustainably manage their natural resource base, increasing biodiversity on their farms and reducing risk of disasters through ecosystem-based adaptation are all environmental strategies to increase resilience to climatic shocks.

 

Settling in Sierra Leone ?

Projects like these help spread the message to those who not only are able to implement the necessary actions to protect their environment, but who also benefit directly from so doing.  The key to success on a national scale, and indeed on a global scale, is government buy-in and cooperation between all stakeholders. As such, our project was also involved in getting the message out to key officials and ministers. With such actions as these, the intent is that they will be able to work towards the same goals and to achieve a sustainable future. As my time as an EU Aid Volunteer comes to an end and I take stock of all I have learnt in Sierra Leone, I am tempted to settle down in this challenging country and contribute to its brighter future.

 

Caroline Long
(ancienne élève du Lycée Charles de Gaulle, 24 ans)
carolong@live.com

https://www.lunduniversity.lu.se/lubas/i-uoh-lu-TAKAK
https://ec.europa.eu/echo/what/humanitarian-aid/eu-aid-volunteers_en
https://www.trocaire.org/whatwedo/wherewework/sierraleone