An Outlook of Some Operations at Upper River Region
By: Modou N. Sanneh (RPO-URR) and
Luntang Konateh (REI-URR)
Upper River Region (URR) is the last and the sixth administrative region of the Republic of The Gambia. It is located at the eastern part of the country with a total area of 2,069 square kilometers which has a length of 79.6 km east to west whereas the width has a distances of 26 km from north to south.
Amidst rising temperatures, a changing climate and variability, people all over the world are now severely exposed to extreme climate events, erratic rainfall regimes, health risks, and food insecurity among other pertinent concerns. Whereas, the children, the elderly and women are the most vulnerable; a function of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity.
Due to an increasing rate of life-threatening environmental problems, it has resulted to the Government of The Gambia (GoTG) through the National Environment Agency (NEA) to decentralize environmental protection by establishing regional environment offices country wide since 2007. The Regional Program Officer (RPO) and Regional Environment Inspector (REI) are the two (2) staff responsible for running the regional offices.
The key roles of the environment officers are to implement, monitor, coordinate, ensure awareness creation and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. Keeping the quality of the environment, safeguarding sustainable use of our natural resources, environment impact assessment on proposed projects, control the importation and usage of hazardous chemicals and pesticides among many others are the areas of intervention at URR regional office.
i. Environment Quality
Among many other countries and The Gambia, solid waste management has become a major challenge due to the complexity and increasing volume of waste in our daily activities. Rapid population growth, unplanned urbanization and change in consumption patterns are some of the factors that make it tough to curb the persisting environmental problems in URR.
To relate against this background, almost a decade now, there has been no proper dumpsite and waste collection points within Basse. This has led to the erection of several illegal dumpsites in and at the outskirts of the domestic dwellings, to an extent, some people indiscriminately dump waste in the natural water ways, this is one of the major reasons why Basse always encounters flood at an early stage of the rainy season.
In the effort to rectify this improper management and dumping of waste, numerous steps were taken in the past. Among which, documentation of all illegal dumpsites within Basse and its satellite villages. Although there is no litter receptacles (temporal dumpsite) in the town, nonetheless, sixty (60) waste bins with other cleansing materials were distributed. Furthermore, the Basse Area Council provided a rotating weekly waste truck at the door step of every compound for transportation of domestic waste. Such efforts are complemented with ongoing radio sensitization with regards to proper waste management and environmental protection.
ii. Natural Resource Management
The forest covered is woody and savanna grassland. It is a lowland area of fresh water zone coupled with a long epoch of dry season. Mining, agriculture, extraction of fuel wood, bush fire and indiscriminate dumping of waste deeply affects the sustainable management of natural resources in the region.
Currently, there is no sand/gravel mining site within Basse and its surrounding villages, this has resulted in the mining of sand in farmlands and streets. Agriculture is the utmost income generating activity, with underlying challenges of salt water intrusion, bush fires during land clearing and resultant soil erosion.
In Upper River Region (URR), the highest governing body or authority in terms of Natural Resource Management (NRM) is the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). The Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) working group is a subcommittee of the TAC, in which the National Environment Agency (NEA) serves as the secretariat to the working group. The main aim of this working group is to safeguard the sustainable and rational use of our naturally endowed resource by sensitizing, promoting and implementing existing polices. Presently there is a weekly radio sensitization by this working group on how to wisely utilize cultivable land, forest and water resources etc.
iii. Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)
Empowered by the National Environment Management Act 1994 to assess the nature and impact of any proposed project on the Environment before it is implemented. This is purposely intended to alleviate or mitigate the potential environmental problems that may arise from projects. The Agriculture & Natural Resources (ANR) working group in the region is responsible for the EIA.
The development projects that have undergone assessment in URR for the past two (2) years are mostly agricultural projects, petrol stations, ice plant, construction of new schools and the recent energy extension project by National Water and Electricity Company (NAWAEC) to Central River Region (CRR).
Yet there are many existing projects in the region that have not undergone an EIA. Partly due to their ignorance of development polices, laws and regulations in the region. To speak from experience, some of this unassessed projects have already caused damages to the environment. For example in URR, an ice plant was found operating with a source of water, which is very inconvenient to drink and destruction of soil structure by miners.
iv. Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides Management
A thorough management of hazardous chemicals and pesticides is one of the major areas in maintaining the quality and biological diversity of the environment. Issuance of annual licenses or permits is an approach used by the office to monitor and control the usage, sale, storage, importation and disposal of hazardous chemicals and pesticides. These activities are mostly undertaken by the Regional Environment Inspector.
The most widely used chemicals in the region are pesticides for agricultural production and other household applications. The region serves as an entry point for many goods including chemicals and pesticides; however, very few are registered while most of them are being smuggled.
The storage, usage and even disposal of the empty containers after chemical application still remained a challenge in the region. Most of the pesticides vendors in URR habitually mix chemicals with other goods while on sale at the same time a very few of them have special stores and a background of the chemicals they are selling. There is a pesticides store in the region owned by department of agriculture but is been underutilized for the past two (2) years.
v. Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS)
To control and monitor the importation and usage of substances that deplete the Ozone Layer has been a mandate of the Agency after ratifying international conventions that protect the depletion of the Ozone Layer.
Data collection on the amount of refrigerant gasses consumed, training of refrigeration technicians and customs officials with other security personnel on refrigerant handling and awareness creation are some of the ongoing activities in the region.