By Fatou Dahaba
The devastation caused by climate change is making many people lose their jobs in The Gambia, Momodou Inkeh Bah has said.
Bah is a climate activist and the president of The Gambia Climate Alliance.
Over 130 women have lost rice fields due to saltwater intrusion in the Central and Upper River regions.
Also, at least 23 fishermen have lost their jobs due to destructive fishing practices and pollution in Gambian waters, where the marine ecosystems are highly adversely affected, too.
Furthermore, as many as 17 oyster collectors have lost their jobs due to the depletion of mangrove swamps in Banjul and environs.
Bah spoke in an exclusive with TAT, saying the Upper and Central Rivers regions were the country’s bread basket.
However, due to saltwater intrusion, farmers there have lost vast hectares of rice fields to soil salinity, which has caused low agricultural productivity and food insecurity.
The outcome of such negative environmental impact is increased internal migration from the farming communities in CRR and NBR to the Fonis, for example, due to the loss of arable land.
“Too many farmers and their families migrated to Foni. I can’t ascertain the numbers; however, there are now numerous new settlements in Foni, mostly of climate migrants.
“The new settlements are Fass Chabai, Nyoro Jarrol, Adulai, and Fass Jorem; these are all new settlements in Foni.”
Bah asserted that saltwater intrusion through the River Gambia into the freshwater areas upcountry has threatened the country’s bread basket and riverine freshwater sources.
He said these used to be among the best waters in Africa, but “climate change and pollution have adversely affected the country’s waters.
The Gambia used to have the best fisheries zones in Africa. Still, pollution in the country’s coastal areas, bordering the sea and Atlantic Ocean, harms marine ecosystems.
As Bah went on, marine life and animals such as turtles, crabs, and fish stocks have been dying in great numbers.
According to the climate activists, harmful fishing practices, poor control of government-issued fishing licenses, and poorly regulated sector companies have worsened matters.
For example, he cited the activities of the Chinese fish meal company, whose polluting factory is situated at the beach near the ocean, as one such entity.
He said there needed to be a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), as required by law, before they were licensed to operate.
And so they keep polluting the ocean with industrial waste discharge amidst the lack of a treatment plant for the waste generated.
This has affected fishing activities and the fisherfolk and polluted the fine sandy beaches tourists enjoy in The Gambia, thus negatively affecting the country’s vital tourism industry, Bah continued to assert in the TAT interview.
“Looking at the economic activities of our local women around where these factories are built, one can conclude that the factories would not have been located there if proper EIA was done.
“Well, the government will always tell us it was done, but looking at the present conditions and its impact on the environment, you can doubt if it was done.”
He added: “Sanyang and Gunjur used to be nice places where tourists could sit in an open atmosphere, pollution-free, and noise-free, to enjoy themselves. But recently, even the beach bars run by Gambian youths are closing down due to the pollution in the area.”
Known for fighting climate justice, Inkeh Bah started his activism with mangrove restoration projects. So far, his team planted over three million mangroves covering a stretch of 5 kilometers across different regions in the country.
The objective of mangrove planting is to help women reclaim vast hectares lost, and so far, 170 hectares of rice fields have been opened that were not in use for decades.
“What Mangrove does during high tide is to stop salt water from spreading into women’s rice fields because Mangrove is a highly-resilient tree. It thrives in fresh and saltwater and absorbs a lot of salt, which can help increase agricultural productivity.
“Today, I can proudly say over 300 Gambian women have started recultivating rice in rice fields abandoned due to salt intrusion.”
Bah mentioned the numerous benefits of mangroves, such as “absorbing a lot of carbon, which is scientifically proven. A hectare of Mangrove can absorb more than 25 tonnes of carbon annually.” Mangroves are also suitable for biodiversity, he said.
‘There are a lot of Gambian women into oyster farming, so naturally, when there are no mangroves, there will be no oysters because they are attached to the mangroves, and that’s where they harvest them.
“So if we lose mangroves, over 300 women in the country will become jobless because it is their source of livelihood.”
As the president of The Gambia Climate Alliance, he said the alliance had engaged the government through the Ministry of Environment and the National Assembly select committee on the way forward to tackle the problems.
So far, the state’s response has been “positive.” And as evidence of this, he cited the alliance’s secretary general joining the parliamentary select committee team.
They were inspecting the Chinese fish meal company and affected beaches to gather first-hand information.