By Bampia Bundu
The 3rd of March has been declared as the African Environmental Wangari Maathai’s Day and in Sierra Leone the Executive Chairperson of the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone (EPA-SL), Madam Haddijatou Jallow reflects on this important day.
Read her statement below:
Today marks the tenth anniversary of Africa Environment Day. Africa Environment Day was established by the Organization of African Unity in 2002. Since that time, March 3 has been set aside to raise awareness of the pressing environmental challenges facing the continent. Some of the biggest environmental challenges facing Africa today are loss of biological diversity, climate change and desertification.
At the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February, 2012, it was agreed that the organization should recognize the great contribution to environmental awareness in Africa made by the late Wangari Maathai.
One of the ways the African Union has chosen to recognize Dr. Wangari Maathai is renaming Africa Environment Day to Wangari Maathai Day.
The African Union celebrates the annual Wangari Maathai Day to stimulate the preservation of the environment in Africa. Wangari Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement (GBM), a non-governmental organization in Kenya. The Green Belt Movement (GBM) promotes environmental conservation, civic and environmental education, and equal rights for women.
Dr. Mathai during her life time planted over six million trees and today the Green Belt Movement which she formed has planned to plant over one billion trees.
As we celebrate this day in Sierra Leone together with the rest of other African countries, let us be reminded that our primary environmental problems in Sierra Leone continue to be land degradation, forest degradation and deforestation.
Available data suggests that by 2050 the world will have about 200 million climatic refuges. Future climatic change impacts in West Africa will not be evenly distributed among communities. Many communities that rely on natural resources for their livelihoods will be affected radically by disproportionate impacts. Climatic change poses substantial risks for human populations, especially those heavily reliant on natural resources for their subsistence.
West African countries are some of the poorest and most densely populated countries of the world. Poverty is a major source of conflicts which threaten the countries’ political stability.
In this context, climate change is likely to exacerbate these problems and threaten the livelyhoods of millions of people. Thus healthy ecological processes are essential for sustaining resources and incomes for West Africa.
Thus my message to all Sierra leoneans on this day is for all of us to understand the magnitude of environmental degradation and climate change impacts on livelihoods and develop strategies to manage the situation which may include forward thinking about the future placements of protected forests, provide opportunities for effective community participation and proactive responses from the civil populace and corporate groups.
Thank you for your attention.
Even though Dr. Wangari Maathai passed away last year she continues to influence people throughout Africa which culminated in the African Union recognizing her as an environmentalist and naming the African Environment Day as the Wangari Maathai Day on March 3.
The AU also established a continental prize to recognize people with outstanding careers and their commitment to preserving the environment, by creating The Wangari Maathai Award for Outstanding Achievements in Environment and Biodiversity Conservation in recognition of her work with the Green Belt Movement.
The representatives of Dr. Maathai’s nation of Kenya sought the creation of the award to immortalize her good works.
It is with great sadness that the family of Professor Wangari Maathai announced her passing away on 25th September, 2011 at the Nairobi Hospital, Kenya, after a protracted and bravely borne struggle with cancer. Her loved ones were with her at the time.
Professor Maathai’s departure is untimely and a great loss to all who knew her-as a mother, relative, co-worker, colleague, role model, and heroine, or who admired her determination to make the world a more peaceful, healthier and better place.