Author: Government of Sierra Leone
Site of publication: United Nations Framework Convention. On Climate
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: February 13, 2022
CHAPTER 2 : National Circumstances
2.6 Environmental issues
Unregulated development has intensified overexploitation of land and marine environments which has resulted in substantial environmental degradation, loss of habitat and biodiversity, air and water pollution and their related social and public health impacts. In 2017, the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) calculated that less than five percent of the country’s original cover in 1990 was still intact. This has continued to decrease at a rate of around 100,000 ha every year, mainly through large-scale and subsistence agriculture, commercial logging and logging for charcoal for energy (Office of the Chief Minister, GoSL, 2019).
Mining operations have also contributed to the high rates of deforestation, land degradation and destruction of farmlands, inadequate availability of clean water, poor air quality and noise pollution (Mabey et al., 2020). There are 48 forest reserves and conservation areas in Sierra Leone, representing about 4 percent of the land area (180,250 ha), although most of them are inadequately protected and managed.
Mangrove coverage in Sierra Leone is estimated to have decreased by approximately 25 percent since 1990 (WA BiCC, 2017). About 300,000 ha of wetlands and marine ecosystems are mangrove forests that are a critical source of livelihoods and ecological support along the coastal plains of the Western Area and other riverine areas across the country. Coastal ecosystems have been severely threatened by pollution, physical alteration and destruction of habitats, over-exploitation of resources, uncontrolled development, coastal erosion and climate change (EPA-SL, 2015). Environmental issues are due to a host of challenges, including a weak regulatory and legal framework, policy incoherence, conflicting government mandates, low management capacity, inadequate coordination, and limited public awareness and education, data, and finance.
CHAPTER 3 : Climate impacts, vulnerabilities and risks
3.3. Historical observations to assess variability, trends and extrêmes
Mean temperature in Sierra Leone has been above normal in recent decades (figures 4 and 5). A signal of warming in Sierra Leone is found in relation to base periods 1961-1990 and 1981-2010. Overall warming of the country is more evident when anomalies are calculated using 1961-1990 as a base period, with increasing positive anomalies since the late 1980s. On the other hand, when anomalies are calculated using the base period 1981-2010, constant warming is observed in at least the last two decades.
3.4 Climate change overview: projected changes of key climate characteristics
It is likely that climate change will magnify the intensity and frequency of natural disasters in the country. Climate variability and climate change-induced extreme weather events will continue to affect the incidence of existing socio-natural hazards. All projections indicate substantial increases in the frequency of days and nights that are considered hot in the current climate. Annual projections indicate that hot days will occur on 26-63 percent of days by the 2060s, and 37-84 percent of days by the 2090s, with these increases being more rapid along the coast than inland (McSweeney et al., 2010). Additionally, the proportion of annual heavy rainfall is projected to increase, especially from July to December. This increase, coupled with alternating periods of wet and dry years, is likely to increase the occurrence of extreme weather events.
Sierra Leone does not yet have a fully functional marine meteorological station, which is vital for sea level assessment. It is generally accepted that it is rising and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. The IPCC suggests that the rise between the present (1980-99) and the end of this century (2090-99) will be about 0.35m (0.21-0.48m) for the A1B scenario and 0.26-0.59m for the A1F1 scenario (IPCC, 2007).
Coastal ecosystems have been severely threatened by pollution, physical alteration and destruction of habitats, over-exploitation of resources, uncontrolled development, coastal erosion and climate change
3.5. Current and future sectoral vulnerabilities
The United Nations identifies Sierra Leone as one of the 46 least developed countries (LDCs). Its economic and social development factor poses a major challenge to development, making the country vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Efforts to improve the quality of life of its people have been hampered by extreme poverty, structural weakness in the economy, civil conflict, the Ebola disease outbreak of 2014 and the lack of capacity related to growth and development. All these are further aggravated by the negative impacts of climate change. The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index ranked Sierra Leone 151 out of 181 countries in terms of vulnerability to climate change with high vulnerability and low readiness (ND-GAIN, 2018). A study has found that the mortality from multiple climate-induced hazards is high and getting worse as exposure is expected to increase (World Bank, 2017). The coast is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of the extent of mangrove forest loss, exposure of the coastal populace to the effects of sea-level rise and winds, and high poverty levels (WA BiCC, 2019).
This section provides current and potential climate vulnerabilities and impacts for all the priority sectors identified by the GoSL for the NAP process. Much of the information is based on the Third National Communication (to the IPCCC) (TNC, 2018). As part of this effort, vulnerability and adaptation assessments were undertaken for agriculture, water resources, human health and coastal zones. This was based on climate change impacts for years 2005 to 2035 and 2050. These do not include social vulnerability and are based on limited available data. More detailed vulnerability assessments that look at interconnected risks are necessary to develop robust adaptation plans, while also expanding the assessment to include all the NAP priority sectors. This is a priority for the next stages in the NAP process. While this section reviews existing information by sector, it is important to note that these impacts will interact with one another along with existing development stressors. It is therefore critical to link these analyses and understand the interactions between climate and development activities.
Agriculture and food security
Agriculture is an important livelihood, primary food source and large component of the economy. Current climatic conditions are ideal for the production of Sierra Leone’s primary crops: rice, sugar cane, banana, coconut, citrus, cocoa, pineapple, yam and cassava. With climate modelling projections for 2050 demonstrating increased temperatures (approximately +1.30°C) and reduced rainfall (approximately -6 percent), this is likely to change. For instance, rice is the staple food crop in Sierra Leone and is grown mainly by small-scale farmers under rain-fed conditions. This makes agriculture and farmers’ livelihoods especially vulnerable to changes in precipitation. This is compounded by persistent rural poverty and farmers without insurance or resources to invest in irrigation and other agricultural technologies. These climate impacts are likely to increase water requirements for crops, competition for water resources and the incidence of pest and disease outbreaks.
Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and increased intensity and frequency of extreme events such as droughts, threaten agricultural production and food security, which could lead to food shortages, hunger and malnutrition. Water shortages could also lead to the loss of food production and the necessity to import. Compounded by fluctuating world commodity prices and poverty, these climate impacts could further increase vulnerability, hunger and malnutrition (GoSL, 2018). These impacts are even more pronounced for vulnerable groups such as women and the disabled, particularly in rural communities.
Water resources and energy
Water quality and availability are highly vulnerable to climate impacts. Major water uses include domestic (drinking, cooking, hygiene), agriculture (irrigation), industrial (beer, spirits, soft drinks, cooling and waste disposal) and hydroelectric power production. Additionally, rural migration to Freetown during and since the civil conflict has increased pressure on urban water resources. Reliable access to clean water is essential for these multiple uses and for populations with implications for social vulnerability and poverty.
Shifting rainfall patterns have created water supply problems. This has led to decreasing access to water and reduced stream flow of rivers and streams. Stream flow has decreased as there has been a decrease in rainfall since the 1970s. For example, the stream flow of the Mano River fell by 30 percent between 1971 and 1989. This has large impacts on access to water since about 80 percent of the rural population receives water from surface sources, including many streams and ponds. These streams dry up during severe droughts which is likely to become more common. There are also seasonal variations where 40 percent of the protected water points suffer water shortages in the dry season (USAID, 2016), demonstrating that existing vulnerability is already acute.
While sources of water have decreased, consumption by industry and mining has increased. These water uses also lead to decreases in water quality, further lowering the overall clean water available for drinking. While irrigation is the primary non-industrial use of water, fewer than 30,000 ha of farmland is currently irrigated. A large percentage of the population has no access to clean water. This will be further exacerbated by climate change. Urban water is also vulnerable as the Guma Valley reservoir supplies 90 percent of the water for Freetown.
It was designed for 300,000 people, while over 1.5 million people live in Freetown. Hydropower, which supplies 60-70 percent of energy is also impacted by climate change as precipitation levels are less predictable and therefore more difficult to manage. Given that only 20.3 percent of the country has electricity, climate change policy needs to consider access to energy that can withstand future climate risks. The challenges facing the water and energy sector are aggravated by rapid population growth, climate change, deforestation, natural disasters, and uncoordinated urban planning.
Coastal zone management
Climate change is having impacts on coastal communities, fisheries, and coastal environments which are important ecosystems that support livelihoods, such as tourism. The coast is densely populated. It is home to 1,347,000 people and growing at about 2.5 percent annually. Fishing is central to the coastal economy, providing a source of income and livelihoods for fishers, fish processors and fish traders. It has led to a large secondary economy of boat building, wood cutting, fish transportation, basket weaving, fishing gear sales, and trading. It is believed that approximately 40,000 artisanal fishers and their families operate more than 12,000 fishing boats that create up to 50,000 jobs in the fisheries sector (WA BiCC, 2019). Decreasing river flows, rising salinity of estuaries, loss of fish and aquatic plant species and reduction in coastal sediments are likely to damage coastal economies and food security for coastal and riverside populations. As part of the TNC, local vulnerability assessments were conducted. These demonstrated the gendered vulnerability evident in coastal communities, indicating a need for adaptation measures to be targeted to women.
With rising sea levels, loss of coastal ecosystems, inundation from major rivers, flash floods during the rainy season and saline intrusions due to decreased low water flows in the dry season, there are increasing challenges to livelihoods. Coastal erosion is already a significant challenge in some coastal areas in Sierra Leone (such as Konakridee, Lakka, Hamilton and Plantain Island) where the coastline is shifting by about 4 to 6 meters a year (WA BiCC, 2019). Sea level rise has the effect of augmenting a decrease in the quality and quantity of ground water resources otherwise caused by human activities. If no action is taken, a total of 26.4 km sq is estimated to be lost to the sea. It is estimated that by 2050, the rising sea level will lead to $46.8 million in building losses with 1,881 buildings affected (World Bank, 2018).
Infrastructure in Sierra Leone is vulnerable to climate impacts across the country. This is especially true as the current infrastructure is non-existent or degraded due to the war and deferred maintenance. Roads are the primary mode of transport with limited or non-existent rail. River transport systems are often impassable during the rainy season. The coast which will be impacted by sea level rise, beach erosion and coastal flooding, is densely populated and is an important economic center with ports and tourist facilities. Coastal communities such as Kroobay and Moa Wharf lack flood escape routes due to the low elevation of roads. Other roads also flood during the rainy season, making it difficult for farmers to transport their agricultural goods. Additionally, as future infrastructure investment occurs, construction materials and design should be climate sensitive and consider heat stress and flood risk.
Water and sanitation infrastructure are sensitive to storm surge, sea level rise and flooding. Wastewater collection and treatment facilities will easily be inundated by rising water levels as they are often situated at the lowest point possible, being dependent on gravity flow to operate. Climate-sensitive, innovative designs of sanitation infrastructure are therefore critical in adapting to climate change.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest malnutrition and child mortality rates in the world, making the country’s population extremely vulnerable to climate shocks. Incidents of high temperature morbidity and mortality are projected to increase. Rising temperatures are also associated with increased episodes of diarrhoeal diseases, seafood poisoning and increases in dangerous pollutants. As temperatures increase above 25°C, malaria infection is expected to rise. Malaria is the most common cause of illness and death in the country, with malaria-related illnesses contributing to 38 percent of child and 25 percent of all-age mortality rates. The most vulnerable groups include children aged under 5 years and pregnant women.
Waterborne diseases are also expected to increase with more frequent and intense flooding. Currently, heavy rains have increased the likelihood of the outbreak of communicable diseases. More intense dry seasons (with increased temperatures) in the north and west have been linked to reduced water quality and disease outbreaks. The last major cholera epidemic outbreak in 2012 caused 300 deaths and affected more than 20,000 people. In Freetown, from July-August 2011 and in August 2012, warmer seas contributed to a toxic algae bloom and increased cases of food poisoning from consumption of shellfish and reef fish. The country’s Ebola outbreak revealed a deficient health system, including understaffed, unavailable or unaffordable health care that will be further stressed by climate change impacts (USAID, 2016).
Climate change and existing development stressors will have severe impact on ecosystems. With increased storm surges, flash floods and high winds, these conditions will be exacerbated by pollution, landslides, coastal erosion, deforestation, biodiversity loss and invasive species which will further stress ecosystems. Land cover is expected to change, with 60 percent of the country under tropical dry forest, 24 percent under tropical very dry forest, and 12 percent under sub-tropical moist forest, particularly in the south and east of the country.
This is the reverse of the current situation and indicates a northward shift in vegetation (i.e. from tropical rain forest to tropical dry forest) and will change the flora and fauna of these areas. The major challenges of forest management include, among others, poor governance, weak law enforcement, lack of coordination among sector ministries and illegal harvesting. Deforestation also increases both landslides and floods by removing tree roots that stabilize the ground.
The smallest change in temperatures will increase the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather events. Although it is generally agreed that the incidence of severe weather will increase, there is no clear picture on the likelihood of a general increase in storm frequency (GoSL, 2018). Sierra Leone is vulnerable to the increasing severity of droughts, floods and severe storms and their impacts on sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, as well as infrastructure and hydroelectric power production. Of the total number of people affected by disasters in Sierra Leone in the last 30 years, 90 percent were affected by flooding (EM-DAT, 2019). Specifically, from 2008 to 2011, floods affected 221,204 people, killing 145 (11 percent of people killed by disaster). On Monday 14th August 2017, a devastating landslide occurred in Regent, Freetown. The landslide, which occurred in multiple phases, was located in an area which was already affected by severe flooding. Approximately 6,000 people were affected with 1,141 declared dead or missing. The total economic value of the effects of the landslide and flooding is estimated at about SLL237.37 billion (US$31.65 million) according to the 2017 World Bank Loss and Damage Assessment Report (World Bank, 2017). These impacts are the result of a combination of climate variability and unsustainable land use practices (such as building on steep slopes) (WA BiCC, 2017).
Urban and rural seasonal flooding, recurrent flash flooding and coastal flooding are commonly observed, leading to seasonal flooding of agricultural fields and low-lying areas, flooding along coastal areas with flood waters overflowing into roads and into residents’ homes. The most affected areas in the recent past include: Kroo Bay, Susan’s Bay, Granville Brook, Lumley area in Western Area, Port Loko and Kambia Districts, the Newton catchment area, Pujehun and Bo areas, Kenema and Moyamba Districts and coastal beaches of the Western Area Peninsular (GoSL, 2018). There are also transboundary issues as heavy rainfall in neighbouring countries may cause floods in Sierra Leone due to three overflowing rivers: the Great Scarcies and Little Scarcies rivers from Guinea and the Mano from Liberia (World Bank, 2017). There are also cascading impacts from flooding. Many communities in Sierra Leone, especially the rural poor, depend on streams and swamps, which dry up during severe droughts. Floods overwhelm existing systems, contaminating drinking water and creating sewerage overflows.