“Let’s switch from smokey fires for cooking to energy efficient means” Mansaray.
By Roseline Isata Mansaray, Fridays for Future – Sierra Leone
Lately we have seen civil unrest and violence in the streets of Freetown What are the causes, and what can we do to avert more violence in the future? The socioeconomic progress made after the end of the civil war in 2002 was undermined by the Ebola outbreak in 2015, and a contraction of mining activities, leaving the country in a weakened position to address the impacts of climate change.
Sierra Leone has high levels of poverty (56.8 percent in 2018). We have high income inequality and youth unemployment is around 70 percent.
This is attributed to slow growth and lack of economic diversification, as well as insufficient focus on community development at the grassroots level. Inflation is projected to increase to 16.8 percent in 2022 due to the Russia -Ukraine conflict, declining to 14.3% in 2023.
However, we face multiple risks from climate change that threaten our economic recovery and key economic sectors and increase the potential for wider environmental degradation.
The climate sensitive agriculture sector provides livelihoods for 75 percent of the population and comprises more than 50 percent of GDP.
Sierra Leone boasts of extensive natural resources, but these are under pressure from population growth, dependence on biomass for energy needs, water pollution and environmentally unsound mining activities leading to high rates of deforestation, increased rates of soil erosion, and occurrence of landslides.
Only 15 percent of the total population, and only about 2.5 percent of the rural population, currently has access to electricity. Electricity means home lighting where students can study in the evening. It means they can recharge their mobile phones and laptop computers.
We can consider that instead of focusing on large-scale energy projects and a national grid, we can focus instead on supplying homes with solar panels and battery storage. Solar panels have a long lifetime and used panels from overseas are inexpensive and functional. Communities could develop microgrids for the town center. We can switch from smokey fires for cooking to energy efficient induction plates.
For transport, we could be producing our own ethanol from biomass of biodiesel from waste vegetable oil. Ethanol for cars has been used successfully in Brazil for over 50 years. Also, we can use electric bicycles recharged at home with solar.
Sierra Leone lost much of its forest cover during the civil war and land-clearing is still happening. We need forest regeneration and tree-planting on a massive scale, and sustainable management of our forests.
We need community-based recycling centers to reduce pollution of our land and waterways. We need a deposit system on all bottles so that they will be returned and reused (eg glass) or recycled in the case of plastic bottles.
A switch to solar energy, as well as wind generators and micro hydro will reduce dependence on foreign oil and gas.The switch to renewable can be decentralized and create much employment and well as upskilling in the community.
The government must provide services and incentives for couples to have fewer children so we can stabilize our population. It is time for our politicians to stop thinking in terms of large-scale centralized development and focus on truly sustainable community-based development to stem the migration to cities and city slums and improve the quality of life in rural villages.
This way we can prevent future violence and even another possible civil war by providing basic needs for everyone by preparing for the impending global climate crisis.