As both legal & illegal mining activities on the increase
Even though the government of Liberia and its counterpart (Sierra Leone) on February 18, 2020, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly manage the Gola National Park, both legal and illegal mining activities have remained major challenges to the conservation of the forest and animals.
The park, which is the home to several endangered species, covers 150,000 hectares of land from Liberia to Sierra Leone and represents one of the largest remaining blocks of the Upper Guinea Forest, is persevered by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).
The sound of the machine that is used at the mining sites reportedly scare animals away to run to neighboring Sierra Leone.
This reporter, who recently toured surrounding villages of the forest, saw that there are presently intense ongoing mining activities in the “protected forest”, polluting the various creeks and other bodies of water causing villagers with no options but to walk about two hours to get safe drinking water for their families.
Massa Swaray, a 20-year-old resident of the forest community, said the huge mining activities within the forest have affected the water to the level that it is not even safe for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing.
Massa, who was at one of the contaminated creeks to wash meat for cooking, told reporters that baby mothers put their children on their backs while pregnant women join other women and children to go distances in search of drinking water.
She said “the long distance we have to cover to get clean and ‘safe drinking water leaves us with no option but to use the already polluted water for cooking, washing, and bathing and we go to nearby villages to get drinking water.”
According to Massa, walking a 2-hour distance to get safe drinking water is something she has lived with for the past three years, hoping that her nightmare will one day end.
Sylvester Bio, a 24 years old Sierra Leone national who was mining along with his elder brother, confirmed being involved in illegal mining activities and said he does not have a license from the Liberian government but the village leadership gave him permission to mine and share the proceeds with them when successful.
Bio said he pays due to the community to work in those areas they consider old mining sites.
He said, “It is by faith I am here, but I am not sure that I will find some minerals; this job is very difficult, so I do not want this job to be my career. I am just looking for money to go back to school.”
Bio said he strongly believes that agriculture is the backbone of every economy; therefore, if he is encouraged and trained he is willing to leave mining.
He said he is knowledgeable of the danger that mining has on the environment, “but there is no other livelihood alternative or means of getting money to return to school.”
Idrissa Mansaray, a man considered to be the richest in the Mano River Kongo belt, is heavily involved with mineral digging without backfilling which, according to an expert in forestry, is dangerous for both protected animals and farmers.
Mansaray confirmed being heavily involved with mining and said he has a license from the government, a statement that could not be independently verified.
Even though Mansaray said he was doing refill, reports gathered suggest that all the big holes both in the forest and along the road were created by him.
He said as a miner who was fortunate to be among those trained under the USAID sponsored project of the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC)—and implemented by the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), through Vainga Agriculture Development Management Consultancy (VADEMCO), he saw the need to leave his mineral business to join agriculture for substantiality.
Mansaray said he has 4,500 hectares of land planted with cocoa which, when harvested, will take him from the mining field. According to him, the cocoa he planted will be ready for harvest within one year and eight months.
He said the minerals are perishable but with his involvement in getting the knowledge from those that were trained in Cocoa production through WA BICC; he can secure his children’s future by planning a lifetime crop.