A Need to Give Lake Tilleh a Rebirth

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According to the Webster’s dictionary, a lake is a body of water surrounded by land. Some lakes are fed by rivers, rainfall or glaciers which flow from the top of mountains or plateaus.

History says the birth of Lake Tilleh, located in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, came about through the instrumentality of the famous provisional commissioner of the erstwhile Central Province, the late Honorable George Dunbar. My research revealed that District Commissioner (DC)
Dunbar conceived the vision to construct the first manmade lake in Sanniquellie while visiting the town of N’Zerekore, Guinea. During that time, what is known today as the Republic of Guinea was governed by the French Colonial Administration of West Africa which had its headquarters in Dakar, Senegal. It is further revealed that the colonial authorities in Guinea officially invited DC Dunbar to N’Zerekore to discuss pertinent bilateral issues relating to the promotion of trade and development between the two neighboring countries. While in
N’Zerekore, Commissioner Dunbar is reported to have discovered an artificial lake, which was constructed by French engineers to serve as a holiday resort for the colonial administrators, their families, and visiting dignitaries. The lake Dunbar saw in N’Zerekore is called Tilleh. It is reported that Dunbar soon fell in love with the magnificent beauty of the lake; so much so that he vowed to construct one upon returning to Liberia. Around 1935, he successfully completed his version of the artificial lake in Sanniquellie, which he named Tilleh in honor of the original lake Tilleh he discovered in the Guinean city of N’Zerekore.

After the lake was officially commissioned by the governing authorities, it was nicknamed ‘the Nimba Sea.’ I was informed by some traditional elders that, during the hot Harmattan season, Commissioner Dunbar used a canoe on Lake Tilleh for recreation during his leisure time. I was also informed that locals were mandated by the DC’s office to contribute aquatic species such as tilapia, catfish, crocodiles, crabs, lobsters, turtles, etc. for the purpose of breeding them to give the lake a natural look.

Prior to the outbreak of the Liberian Civil War, Lake Tilleh was a very beautiful and vibrant inland sea heavily populated with tilapias, catfish, crabs, lobsters, stinger fish, giant bow frogs, spring frogs, even large boa constrictors. The lake was a natural repository for countless number of aquatic species that had gone extinct due to many years of neglect.

Moreover, this precious body of water also served as a breadbasket for the masses, who could not afford to buy fish and meat from the Sanniquellie General Market. Lake Tilleh is almost to the city of Sanniquellie as the Nile River is to Egypt, except that it is not irrigated. Many people who lived in the area depend on this body of water for their daily livelihood. At the lower extremity of the lake leading to the LAMCO railroad, dozens of unemployed youths are often seen washing motorbikes, vehicles, including heavy duty trucks. A lot of women, including young girls, also go to wash their garments at the lake, where the latest social gossips in town would be heard. The old folks of Seiyee Clan, the birthplace of Sanniquellie, also used the lake as a rendezvous to recollect the golden memories of their youth.

Environmental researchers who are eagerly concerned about the current trend of global warming or climate change and its negative impact on bodies of waters also visit and carry out scientific investigations in the area. This is part of the significant role the lake has played in the socioeconomic development of our people over the years. Bravo to Mother Nature!

From the time of our national calamity in the 1990s up to 2003, Lake Tilleh has suffered neglect at the hands of people who were supposed to care for her. The Sanniquellie City Corporation, in whose municipal domain Lake Tilleh is located, was the first to turn her back on the lake. During the administration of the first city mayor of Sanniquellie, which spanned from the early 1970s to the middle of the 1980s, the city government at that time was the major driving force for brushing and maintaining the lake’s surroundings.

Unfortunately, the city administrations which came on board after the Liberian Civil War were yet to follow the good example of the previous administrations. It is disheartening to see the shoreline of the once beautiful lake currently engulfed in thick bushes. The lake’s immediate surroundings have become fertile grounds for rodents and suspected criminals to the extent that the branch of the Liberian Marketing Association (LMA) in Sanniquellie has reportedly become one of the major contributors to the pollution of the lake. The marketers have, over the years, dumped huge quantities of garbage in the lake thereby accelerating its reduction in size. Before the outbreak of the civil crisis, the actual perimeter of the lake extended to the paved road which leads to Yekepa via St. Mary’s Catholic High School. It is frustrating to note that our once great lake, which was the glittering landmark of Sanniquellie, has been drastically reduced to a little pool of water that could soon disappear if no concrete government regulation is put in place to rescue the deteriorating situation, now!

Finally, I wish to use this public medium to call upon the service and input of well-meaning local and international stakeholders who have institutional mandates/expertise in restoring and rehabilitating fragile ecological environments threatened by human interference.

At this critical juncture, I would like to call upon the Environmental Protection Agency, which has the statutory mandate, to play a leading role in mitigating a durable solution to the Lake Tilleh crisis. I would also like to encourage international institutions such as Conservation International (CI), World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and UNESCO to join the crusade to restore Lake Tilleh to its prewar status. In the same vein, however, I would like to call on the City Corporation of Sanniquellie, including the county authorities and the Legislative Caucus of Nimba to join the bandwagon for progress to save Lake Tilleh.

Holding all things constant, if all of the mitigating strategies succeed in lifting our only manmade inland sea out of its present miserable state, Lake Tilleh could become an epicenter for the promotion of the much talked about tourism trade, which has the potential to infuse millions of dollars into the local economy, thus creating a win-win situation for everyone.

This laudable endeavor, through the grace of God, will make our great lake to become a bastion of double blessing for our youthful population – job creation and a bumper economic harvest.

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