By Madiba Singhateh
Welcome to another edition of the Environment Column. In this weeks’ edition of the Column, we will look into aftermath of the recent bush fires that ravaged the Foni Bondali forest. We will also look at the re-occurrence of the incident in other forest parks within the country.
The outbreak of the inferno at the Bondali forest took place on Monday 8th February 2019 at around 7 pm in the evening. The Foni Bondala forest is said to be among the biggest parks in West Coast Region. It is in fact confirmed by Forestry Officers that the forest range goes deep into the southern region of Senegal or Casamance, and has a lot of plant species; that many villages in both Foni and Casamance, benefit from the immense edible forest products harvested.
According to information from some villagers, the fire occurred around Santaba but that the cause of the fire was yet to be determined, because previous fire outbreaks of this nature, came from across the border. The intense nature of the fire according to our source, made it difficult to contain, because of the availability of elements such as dry grass and other combustibles. To make matters worse the conditions for fires to grow with intensity including the wind, were present.
One Ebrima Jallow, an eye witness to the event, said they tried all efforts to control the fire but to no avail. Villagers including the Environment Guide were mobilized to contain and eventually put off the fire; but that with the intensity of the heat, it took nearly two days before this was realised.
Jallow said the fire caused damage to vast cattle grazing areas, rendering the animals nowhere to graze; that villagers became desperate about the fire for fear of their homes due to its intensity.
Binta Jallow a member of the Anti-Forest Fire campaigners, said outbreak of bushfires is becoming more frequent and if not properly controlled, it will affect trees and wild animals. She said children, irresponsible smokers, hunters and honey harvesters, can contribute to the cause of the fire outbreaks.
Sekou Janko of the National Forestry Platform said it was not long when the Department Forestry conducted a sensitization exercise on bush fires and related issues; but with this outbreak, the sensitization is worthless.
Janko said according the Forestry Act, when a bush fire occurs between two villages, Government should summon both villages if the perpetrator is not identified; but that this Law is never applied, making bush fire occurrences too frequent, without anybody taking responsibility.
Janko said only the North Bank Region is fulfilling that mandate of the Forestry Act, regarding the identification of culprits, when bush fires occur; that at this time of the year, foresters have to be on their toes to look out for such incidents across the country, especially on the border. He noted that foresters and the Fire services need to worked together to contribute in the containment of bush fires and urged the people to change their attitude.
Janko said a task force is currently working to complement Government’s efforts in the preservation of forest areas from bush fires and illegal logging.
According to Environmentalists bush fires do not only affect the forest, but that the emission of smoke harms human beings. He explained that the smoke from forest fires is a mixture of particles and other harmful gases such as carbon monoxides, adding that larger particles contribute to the hazy condition of the environment causing difficulty in breathing and irritating the nose and throat.