By Sheikh Alkinky Sanyang
The Minster of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources has reiterated government`s strong commitment to sound environmental management, including the age-long fight against bushfires, tree felling and charcoal burning.
“It is important to note that 85% of our population depend to a great extent on the forest and its rich resources in terms of energy, food, medicine, income and employment. As a result, it is our collective responsibilities to conserve, protect and rationally utilise this precious and priceless heritage against the menace of fire.”
Lamin B Dibba made this statement in address on the National Anti-Bushfire Day annually observed on 10 December. The day has been set aside by government to provide opportunities for reflection on the causes and impact of bushfires on our natural resource base and the resultant impact on our socio-economic development. The day also creates awareness as well as advocates for the active participation of communities in the prevention and management of bushfires, he observed.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Prevention, A National Response”
Minister Dibba said the government attaches great importance to the prevention and sustainable utilisation of our forest resources. Therefore, environmental threats like bushfires are among the most serious drivers of forest degradation.
“The negative impacts of forest fires are evidently seen not only on the forest cover and its ecosystem, but on the environment in general and the livelihood of the rural population,” he pointed out, quoting from the highlight in the National Forest Assessment (NFA) 2010 Report that states that over 50% of the country forest cover is burned annually and the impact of these fires is unfortunately not limited to the destruction of the vegetation cover but habitats of wildlife species and other agricultural produce also perish.
“Essentially,” he said, “forest fires change the forest structure leading to more open woodland which becomes prone to erosion and reduction in soil fertility, and the frequency and intensity could be reduced by including fire management in broader landscape management strategies and through more integrated approaches which include not only fire suppression but also fire prevention, early warning and preparedness.
“The Department of Forestry has put in place policies and strategies for better control and management of bushfires. These policies and strategies include improving dialogue and communication with the general public to sensitise them on the need for community participation in the effective management of forest resources of the country. The Gambia Forest Communication Concept has been designed along these lines to bring forestry services closer to the people through the sharing of relevant and timely information.,” Minister Dibba stated.
Adding on, the Environment Minister said the commemoration of this day helps raise the level of awareness of communities on the dangers of forest fires particularly at this prime time of the beginning of the dry season as the department of forestry is undertaking efforts to improve communication with the communities especially those close to the forest.
This year’s commemoration will be observed in the five administrative regions in close collaboration with the office of the regional governors and district chiefs.
Calling on Gambians and those alike residing in the country to change their attitude towards the environment, Minister Dibba implored every Gambian and resident to reflect on the loss we are incurring as a nation due to bushfires. “The environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and livelihood resulting from annual bushfires is indeed worrying, while an incalculable volumes of timber, firewood as well as non-timber forest products perish due to annual bush fires, creating further difficulties in our efforts to meet national requirements for domestic energy and construction material,” he said.
Galvanising support for environmental protection, conservation and preservation, Minister Dibba revealed that soil degradation assumes serious proportion in many parts of the country, resulting in significant reduction on farm productivity, thus our fauna is also seriously affected by large-scale forest fires which destroy their habitats and distribution. Consequently, he noted that our biodiversity continues to decline steadily creating negative impacts on the promotion of tourism products and its potentials for diversification.
He challenged the general public to join efforts in preventing the occurrence of bushfires and participate fully in the control exercise whenever and wherever they occur.
In conclusion, he warned that the Government of The Gambia through the Department of Forestry wishes to assure all Gambians and residents of The Gambia that Government will apply the full force of the law against anyone found guilty of illegally setting a forest on fire, and equally urged all local authorities to take responsibility of preventing bushfires in their area of jurisdiction, as a national and individual response.