The executive director of the National Environment Agency (NEA), has revealed that Agency would soon be implementing a Coastal Area Management (CAM) project valued at nearly US$10M.
Momdou B. Sarr made the revelation on Monday before the Joint Session of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprises Committee (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly while presenting his institution's annual activity reports and audited financial statements for the year ended 31st December 2010, and 2011. He said the project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), under its LDC Fund, with co-financing from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Gambia government.
Sarr told the Committee that with the adoption of the Gambia Environment Action Plan (GEAP) by the Cabinet in 1992, the NEA was formally established under the National Environment Management Act (NEMA, 1994) as a semi-autonomous agency with an independent structure under the Office of the President.
According to him, it was argued at the time of creating the NEA that in order to effectively coordinate all environmental matters within the country, the agency responsible for overall coordination of environmental management in the country would need to be perceived as having an authority not controlled by other line ministries, while this was the rationale for the placement of NEA directly under the Office of the President, with His Excellency, the President serving as chairman of the Statutory National Environment Management Council (NEMC).
He explained that the NEA is empowered under Section 3.3 of NEMA to apply the provision that "the Agency may instruct any public officer to take measures to prevent or discontinue any act deleterious to the environment. The law further states under Section 4. (1) that notwithstanding Section 3, the Agency may petition the Attorney General, requesting him to bring a public interest action if any person instructed under Section 3, refuses to follow the instructions given".
Delivering the 2011 report, Sarr said The Gambia is currently facing numerous environment challenges, ranging from widespread illegal tree felling to coastal erosion threatening vital infrastructure. He also said that the export of timber has been one of the contributing factors for the accelerated illegal felling of trees.
He added: "Similarly, the proper disposal of liquid waste, particularly sewage, is also a major challenge. Many pit latrines in these unplanned settlements are not properly designed or placed. The risks of latrines polluting drinking water in wells are always imminent. The liquid waste from septic tanks is presently being disposed of at the Kotu Sedimentation Ponds, but these facilities need urgent refurbishment to avoid contamination of the Kotu Stream where the treated sewage is emptied.
The most serious concern now is the possibility of untreated sewage from the Kotu Sedimentation Ponds discharged in the Kotu Stream ending up in the sea. The tourism industry would suffer a devastating blow should any tourist bathing in the sea catch a fatal illness from the untreated sewage from Kotu Sedimentation Ponds."
Sarr noted that majority of Gambia dealers of pesticides generally lack any formal education, and therefore not conscious of the enormous health risks of improper handling and usage of pesticides. He said there have been several reported incidents of female gardeners within the Greater Banjul Area treating their vegetables against pests with strong pesticides, but only to harvest these vegetables for the market the following day instead of waiting for a few weeks for the toxicity of the pesticides to wane as required by the manufacturers.
The NEA boss informed the Committee that it has also been reported that surplus groundnut seeds meant for sowing, treated with very strong pesticides, have ended in the local market for direct human consumption. He warned that consumption of such heavily pesticide-treated seeds would have direct carcinogenic effects on humans. He added that the negative impacts of climate change are being felt with all sectors and with the coastal zone, the country has been experiencing accelerating annual rates of erosion ranging from two metres to four metres since the late 1980s.
While underscoring the government's efforts in its bid to save certain important infrastructure such as the Banjul Highway, he revealed that a US$20M loan was obtained from the African Development Bank (ADB) in 2003.
"Despite the beach nourishment under the latest Coastal Protection Project at the Senegambia Beach area, the rapid erosion occurring there has reduced the beach width to less than 25 years in a period of only eight years. There are other areas currently being threatened by coastal erosion in the North Bank areas, notably the Ginack village. As the sea level continues to rise as a result of climate change, the visual impressions of coastal erosion with the entire coastal strip will become more pronounced. Another effect of sea level rise is the salt intrusion of productive agricultural lands," he concluded.
Samba JB Tambura, an assistant compliance officer at the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) said that NEA was found to be non-compliant with the Public Procurement Act, its regulations and instructions during the period under review.
The Committee members and subject matter specialists then raised recommendations, questions, concerns and suggestions, which were responded to by the NEA officials, before the report was finally adopted after being rejected twice by the PAC/PEC.