By Ahmed Ojulla Bangura, PV Special Correspondent, Bradford, UK.
Kono district is a region that is not only rich in diamonds but also in dense forests rich with flora and fauna, and huge agricultural potential.
Some of its output on agriculture includes coffee, cocoa, ginger, palm kernel, cassava, bananas etc.
All of these resources have played a significant role in the economic activities of both the inhabitants of Kono district and migrants from other parts of the country.
But since 1930, when the first diamond was discovered at Gbobora stream in Kono district, diamond activities have dominated the socio-economic life and livelihood of people in the district. It has brought about mixed blessings in the district as well as other parts of the country where diamond mining is undertaken.
The upsurge in diamond activitie became catastrophic after the 1967 political maladministration which witnessed a dramatic shift of economic activities from agriculture to a free for all search for diamonds.
This era could be characterised as the period of ‘resource curse’. This is evident in the environmental and socio-economic malaise that has befallen the inhabitants of the richest diamond district in Sierra Leone.
Without any doubt, the diamond mining activities in the mining areas are not environmentally friendly. They depleted the biodiversity and the ecosystems of the once densely forested region(see photos).
Many of its flora and fauna are now extinct due to lack of resilience of the forest. The rate of land degradation taking place is very alarming.
Unfortunately, the environmental concern is limited and appears like a talking shop indulged in ocassionally by well fed and happy bureaucrats and politicians.
Both NGOs and government institutions only pay ‘rent seeking’ service to curb the startling environmental degradation in Kono district.
Officials on both sides have used their offices to attract attention but do very little to remedy the ‘resource curse’ in the diamond district.
Kono district has alluvial and kimberlite mining done in both small and large scale. The mining activity involves the clearing of land and rendering it infertile for agriculture.
It’s therefore not surprising that Kono district, like other parts of the country, is characterised by hunger and food insecurity.
Unfortunately, Kono district suffers more effects because of the destruction done on the land due to mining. The people have given up agriculture for mining. Consequently, they have witnessed around them quantities of uncovered mining pits, degraded diamond fields which are ten times more than the size of a standard football pitch, and a threatening environment of contaminated water and looming desert.
From Sewafe town to the heart of Koidu town and beyond, there are ominous evidences of environmental decrepitude. The mining is both alluvial and Kimberlite, mechanised and non-mechanised and is evident in front of dwelling houses, back of houses, in gardens, around farms, paths, in streams, rivers, hills and valleys, and along motor ways.
All these mentioned places are evidences of environmental degradation in all chiefdoms in Kono district. Such degradation is daily, weekly and so the impact of destruction is annual and has affected past generations, the present generation and might also affect future generations in Kono.
This is an indication that mining activity in Kono district has been far from the tenets of sustainable development.
Land is being depleted with enormous pain on the inhabitants of Kono and its environs.
Regrettably, some of the victims of environmental degradation are themselves perpetrators of such unfriendly environmental actions.
However, from the evidence of the attached photos one can ascertain the alarming level of environmental degradation in Kono district. Urgent action is therefore needed to curb the pace at which its is prevailing.
We are however not saying all mining should cease in Kono. We are saying it should be done responsibly like in other countries with the collaboration of trained environmentalists.
The people of Kono district and other Sierra Leoneans still need jobs and other income from mining and the government should find a way to encourage mining companies to stay in the country, not force them to leave or close them down.
But government should always make sure the environment including the area’s great flora and fauna are protected and preserved. It can be done, with seriousness and dedication from all concerned.