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City of Banjul
Saturday, October 31, 2020

Maelstrom of mobile phone mast in the Gambia and the need for environmental planning regulation

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By Abdoukarim Sanneh,
London, United Kingdom

We love our mobile phones and according to GSMA Intelligence report, 2015 mobile industry in Sub Saharan Africa continues to scale rapidly, reaching 367 million subscribers. Deloitte and the GSM Associations in their econometric modelling studies on the availability and use of mobile phone service indicated that Mobile Phone in Africa have improved communication, social inclusion, economic activity and productivity in sectors such as agriculture, health and education. Given that the use of mobile phone comes with growth in the economic advancement, there are also latent effects on the environment that need putting in place regulatory procedures for the instillations of mobile phone masks in densely populated neighbours to reduce or mitigate the impact on the people and environment.

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During my recent visits to the Gambia and Senegal, what came to my notice was that the visual scenery of the skyline is littered with all kind of telecommunication masts. I do not know whether there is any form of regulation in place or procedures about the instillation of communication masks in densely populated areas and on top of buildings. In both England and Wales Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and Town and Country Planning ( Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2017) put it as a condition on the developer to go through planning permission before the instillation of the mast.

In United Kingdom and Many European Union Countries, there have been lot of debate and protest about human safety and instilled Mobile/ telecommunication infrastructure. Town and Country Planning laws and regulations in England and Wales empowered citizens through public consultation to challenge development decision in their communities. Both Major and minor development order that goes through Local Government Planning Division Level before been issued a development permit order is subjected to public rights to information and democratic decision making through public participation. Under the European Union Directives because of Public protest about the environmental and health impact of erecting telecommunication masts and base stations especially in densely populated areas erecting of mobile phone mast can be subjected Environmental Impact Assessment.

EU Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA Directive 85/337/EEC and amended Directive 97/11/EC) telecommunication masts falls under Annex I or Annex II project. According to this directive, any project that falls under Annex I or Annex II, the developer before the instillation of the telecommunication masts should conduct Environmental Impact Study and part of which involves scoping, baseline study public consultation. Environmental Impact Assessment is not science and it is does not involved scientific experimentation design.

It is a project management tool and a process of information gathering in order to determine or forecast what will be likelihood of the project through prediction using the body of information available on the environment.
I do not know what regulatory regimes are in place to control the instillation of these telecommunication masts in our densely populated urban areas. It is about time for The Gambia National Environment Agency to do develop regulatory environmental Planning policy and procedures about telecommunication Mast. There is a body of scientific information about the effect of telecommunication masts on the people’s and their health.

The instillation of telecommunication mast all over the country by Africell, Comium, QCell and Gamcell should be regulated and that can be done by developing and enforcing environmental planning regulation that governed telecommunication mast infrastructures in all part of the country. From Banjul, Serekunda, Brufut, Sukuta, Bijilo, Brikama, Bakau and other part of the country, tall masts it becomes part of the visual scenery. In my conversation in a telecommunication engineer (name withheld) it comes clear me that there is no regulations or laws in place that mobile telephone operators/providers have do not need to obtain before erecting these telecommunication masts.

Mobile phone transmission masts are characteristics of waves of electromagnetic fields associated with high voltage flow that can cause electromagnetic radiation due to high exposure electromagnetic frequency. Exposure to electromagnetic radiation has lot of health implications. A survey study conducted in France using questionnaire conducted by Santini. R et al (2002) on investigation on the health of people living near mobile telephone mast relay station found a variety of self-reported symptoms for people that are living near a these telecommunication masts in both rural and urban areas. Different epidemiological research indicated that people living in places where telecommunication masts are erected are vulnerable to disorder like cancer, lung diseases, sleep disturbance and even physical disabilities but according to World Health Organisation there is no current scientific proofs of health hazards associated with telecommunication masts.

In the event of scientific uncertainty about the health impact of telecommunication mast, the Gambia National Environment Agency should put in place the precautionary principles and cautionary policies that regulate maelstrom of Telecommunication masts especially in densely urban areas. Conditioning Mobile Telephone Companies/Operators before erecting telecommunication mast to conducted environmental impact assessment are one method of strict application of precautionary principles. Tall mast has becomes part of the environment and seemingly every mobile telephone operators had put its own masts without no planning regulation or public consultation.

There should be effective dialogue between National Environment Agency, Communities and Mobile Telephone Companies in decision on where masts should be located. Similarly, policies of co-locating antennas owned by all the operators on a single mast and where possible, locating the masts away from schools is used in United Kingdom as a prudent approach that the industry mainly take in response to public concern. We love our mobile phone but I hope the government put in place some form of regulation to mitigate and reduce human exposure electromagnetic radiation generate from these telecommunication mast. There are telecommunication masts everywhere and needs some form of regulation.

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