Make Bumbuna hydro a Real Elephant!

1 November 2006 at 23:44 | 624 views

General Editor Abayomi Punchy Roberts(photo) is no stranger to energy or environmental issues as he maintained a column for many years in a number of publications on just such issues when he was practising as a journalist in Sierra Leone. A careful and analytic writer, Punchy’s style normally entails offering suggestions and solutions after launching devastating criticism. A cool but very critical penmeister. Here is Punchy:

By Abayomi Charles Roberts, Edmonton, Canada.

There are a few projects, which I strongly support for Sierra Leone. Bumbuna Hydro-Electric project is one of them.

I hope the next government, taking over after next year’s elections, would treat it with the seriousness it deserves - as would subsequent governments in the years to come.

This might sound off key to people who know my stance on the environment and my record with Green Scenery (SL), SLADEA, CSSL and the government departments dealing with related issues. Bumbuna is actually a natural waterfall that could extensively damage ecosystems around the area and even beyond. It could also disrupt farming and labour market trends for years in the future. I concede.

I urge the completion and sustenance of the project out of social expediency; with the steady decline in living standards, so vividly evident in the power blackouts in the nation’s capital, Freetown, and the total lack of electricity in most other communities.

For a few years after flag independence in 1961, The Sierra Leone Electricity Corporation (SLEC) which was reformed in the 1980s into the National Power Authority (NPA) provided power in each of the headquarter towns of the 12 districts. Back then the availability of SLEC power was a mark of the urban/municipal status of Sierra Leonean communities.
One by one these services stopped; leaving only Freetown, Bo and Kenema and mining centres like Rutile and Sierromco in the club.

As the effects of state-inspired corruption and mismanagement spread across the country like a malignant cancer, the NPA machines became functionally useless relics and blackouts became more frequent, extensive and incessant. Gradually, with discomfort, people resigned themselves to the frequent failings of NPA and opted for generators instead. Now these mostly noisy machines have ‘caught on’ to the extent that hardly any business unit in the formal sector can survive without a generator or two. Homes, shops and informal enterprises also refuse to be left behind.

I digress here, just to illustrate. In the early nineties a whole family vacationing in Freetown from overseas were all found dead at a house on the corner of Siaka Stevens Street and Kroo Town Road. Apparently, they had left the generator on all night, oblivious to the deadly carbon mono-oxide laden fumes. The story made headlines but I don’t recall a single mention of the deadly compound. The lesson I learnt is that we who happen to living elsewhere should not ease up but keep on the pressure from outside. Let us insist on results from our leaders, instead of just ‘hiring our own generators’ with our dollars and pounds.

Anyway, so the country slid down all current standard of living indices. Meantime, humour entered the fray, as NPA was dubbed ‘No Power Available’ amid a serious struggle to cope without all the other basic amenities that have been crippled for lack of sustained power supply. From morgues (mortuary) to surgical theatres in health centres and hospitals; from the electronic scoreboard at the National Stadium (in Freetown) to the petrol station pumps; from offices to printing presses; every corner of decent human existence was - and continues to be - hard hit by power shortage, directly or indirectly. Of course this state of things dampens the human spirit; if only for the constant darkness even at times when (or in areas where) there used to be electricity-assisted visibility, sound waves, sanitation and temperature control.

The bottom line is Power is at the heart of any dynamic unit, be it human, plant, mechanism/organism or social entity. As person or communities, we each need energy. That is why we eat, plants feed, machines burn fuel. That is why communities co-operate to provide light and current. In modern times it is electric power that is the ultimate source.

It is a really a chain reaction or a food chain, which analogy suits you. To succeed in life people strive to put food on the table for their loved ones, educate their kids and kin and care for the sick, disabled and elderly. In each case as in evry other facet of life, energy is needed and expended routinely, often continuously.

So from the cradle, through life, unto the grave, energy is invaluable and indispensable. Farmers and fishermen use it because they need it to meet other people -and their own - demands. So do hospitals and healthcare outlets of all modern kinds. As do schools and businesses/agencies. Of note, even politicians, policymakers and their so-called ‘civil servants’ and praise singers/kingmakers do! If only to canvass votes, buy and ride posh vehicles - and the liven microphones needed to blow hot air and pay lip service.

From my experience and lessons learnt, some things cannot be changed overnight. But there is that thing called foundation. I believe projects like Bumbuna offer the most credible promise for Sierra Leoneans today and in future. I see it as a base from which other goodies can come, for the better. Like I hinted earlier, I anticipate huge costs like skewed migration, environmental damage, in addition to money. That is why I mentioned expediency in making my point.

Random House Webster’s Dictionary defines Expediency as: “the quality of being expedient; a regard for what is advantageous (to all Sierra Leoneans as a nation) rather for what is right”.

To conclude, I am tempted to suggest some icing on the cake as I count our chicken. So that when the power is restored and continues to flow, there are other requisites or accessories of decent living.

I dare add the production or even massive importation (in the short term) of rice and any condiment that cannot be cultivated locally. That is to suggest a tax freeze on necessities like medicines, rice, palm oil, stationery and school supplies, textiles, at least for the first few years of the anticipated exportation of Bumbuna’s power supply. It’s not much use to have abundant electric power at home and in schools and hospitals when there are no books, pencils, uniforms for students; no medication or bed linen and wound dressings for patients; no uniforms and disinfectants for nurses dispensers, doctors and their helpers.

I dare say let us all think big (Global) as we act for country (Local).

Let us make our incoming leadership make Bumbuna Hydro electricity project a real elephant we can all feel, interact with and - most of all - benefit from and enjoy to watch.

Not just another white (or black) elephant.