Freetown (Sierra Leone) / Nairobi – Celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leone's independence resonated with strong calls to protect, conserve and manage the country's precious natural resources.
This week's celebrations included events organised as part of an ongoing awareness-raising campaign by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Foundation for Africa.
Focusing particularly on Sierra Leone's youth, the campaign opened with a 500-strong environmentally themed parade in the streets of the capital Freetown.
Scores of school children and teachers belonging to some 40 green groups established by the government with support from UNEP in schools across the country participated in the event. Also in attendance were local government representatives, members of the UN family and numerous local environmental groups.
Following the parade, 75 students were taken on a tour of the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which protects and rehabilitates chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade or confiscated from wildlife traders, and of the Guma Valley Dam, a reservoir that supplies water to a large proportion of the city.
"The future of Sierra Leone is in the hands of the children", said Haddjijatou Jallow, Executive Chair of Sierra Leone's Environmental Protection Agency. "Young as they are, if they put all that has been said into good practice then we will have a better Sierra Leone."
Through these and other events, such as a seminar organized by UNEP for local organizations working to protect Sierra Leone's environment, the campaign highlighted the importance of conserving such natural heritage sites as the Gola Rain Forest and the Western Area Peninsular Forest, and promoting sustainable natural resource management practices as part of the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy.
"Sierra Leone is blessed with beautiful landscapes, abundant wildlife and rich mineral resources", said Oli Brown, the UN Environmental Affairs Officer in Sierra Leone. "Well protected and carefully used, these resources will be an engine for growth for generations to come," he added.
Sierra Leone's economy is almost entirely dependent on its natural resource endowment, with most employment in the country linked to environment and natural resources.
According to the UNEP report "Sierra Leone: Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding Assessment", released last year, the effective management of the environment and natural resources sector is critical to the country's continued peace and stability, economic development, rural integration and improved governance capacity.
Since 2010, UNEP has been working together with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FOA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to provide capacity-building assistance and technical support for natural resource management in Sierra Leone, within the framework of the UN's Joint Vision for Sierra Leone.
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