Open letter to Honorable Lamin Dibba; Minister of Environment and Forestry

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By Ahmed Manjang

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your beautiful family a blissful Ramadan. I pray to the Almighty Allah to accept from us our fast and our all good deeds. As the Gambia’s Environment and Forestry Minister, I pray that Almighty Allah continues to guide you. Amen. I am in no doubt these are very challenging portfolios at a time when Environmental issues are major headlines all over the world and for all the right reasons. Our world is warming at an alarming rate, the exponential rate of our industrial development means more and more dangerous chemicals are being pumped into our environment sometimes indiscriminately. As people, we have to be on our guard at all times. We have to make sure we observe and practice good environmental practices to save ourselves from environmental catastrophe through our actions. It is against this backdrop that the entire Kombo South are crying day and night to make sure fishmeal companies operating along the Kombo Coastlines observe good environmental practice to safeguard health and safety of the people living around these locations.

For the past four years, the people of Kombo South have had to put up with constant air pollution from these fishmeal factories; as people, it is our fundamental human right to breathe fresh air. Between February and June 2017; we have all seen the gory pictures of “The Bolong Fenyo Wildlife Reserve,” in Gunjur as a  result of the indiscriminate dumping of fishmeal waste into the lagoon by the Golden Lead [GL] fishmeal factory. At the height of this environmental carnage, we took water samples from the lagoon and sent it to Germany for biochemical analysis, when the results were communicated back to us, it was an absolute disaster, the result of which was communicated to you by my humble self. We immediately alerted National Environmental Agency (NEA). They wasted no time in descending on GL and investigated our claims. They found enough violations to warrant them to revoke their license from GL and also sued them to courts for the damage they done to our local environment. Only for the Minister of Trade, Dr. Isatou Touray, to intervene and stop the case from proceeding to courts, she did not only stop there; even before the case was withdrawn from court, she vetoed for GL to continue operations without remedying any of their environmental violations. The final straw for local environmentalist on the ground, immediately after we sued GL at the high courts for environmental damages and sought an injunction for them to stop operation until they rectify all the environmental violations they were engaged in, frustrating enough our case is being dragged at the courts since August 2017.

I am writing in response to your recent appearance at “Kerr Fatou” TV show on 17th of May 2017 where you responded to series of the question concerning recent spate of worrying environmental issues being raised by residents along the Kombo coasts. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking time out to respond to these pertinent environmental issues; this is the least we expected from our state Ministers in the new Gambia. However, I am disappointed you never acknowledge our biochemical results of “Bolong Fenyo Wildlife” water quality lab results which I emailed to results to you. Honorable Minister, you will agree with me that what is happening in Gunjur is not right and failure of your ministry to make sure GL takes all safety precautions is putting the lives of the entire country at risk. Fish caught in waters in Gunjur will eventually find its way on dinner tables along the length and breadth of The Gambia. You mentioned that your ministry tested wastewater from GL at Pasteur Institute in Dakar and they declared the water safe enough to be dumped into the ocean. We the people of Kombo South are not the least comfortable with this since you never made this results public, I think as a responsible citizen you should make this results public as we did with our test result so that the public can scrutinize it. According to our test results, the fishmeal waste coming from GL is loaded with Nitrate and Phosphate.  Report # 39461706 of Reef Analytics shows that phosphate levels in the sample of seawater collected from the Bolong Fenyo Wildlife Reserve on 22 May 2017 are starkly higher than maximum levels necessary for the protection of marine aquatic life:

Orthophosphate (PO43−) is a dissolved reactive form of phosphate.

Two results were presented in the report because orthophosphate was measured in the lab by two different methods – photometrical (result = 2429 µg/L) and by Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) (result = 9037 µg/L).  Of the two, ICP-MS is the more sensitive method.   At any rate, it is important to point out that an orthophosphate concentration of 9000 µg/L, is 200 times a value deemed necessary to prevent eutrophication in estuarine waters, and 600 times a value deemed necessary to prevent eutrophication in other coastal waters. Similarly, the concentration of nitrate in the sample of seawater collected from the Bolong Fenyo Wild Reserve on 22 May 2017 is quite high.

What was even more worrying being the level of heavy metal such as Arsenic and Arsenate, these two metalloids are very strong environmental carcinogens. Arsenic is a natural metalloid chemical that may be present in groundwater. Ingestion only poses health problems if a dangerous amount of arsenic enters the body. Then, it can lead to cancer, liver disease, coma, and death. Finding dangerous amounts of arsenic in the natural environment is rare. Finding dangerous amounts of arsenic in the natural environment is rare. Their levels never exceed more than 23 micrograms/liter (ug/L), worryingly in our test results we obtained from Germany; Arsenate, the soluble form of Arsenic was 55ug/L, an aberration of 138% above normal. This dangerous level of very potent carcinogen being pumped at an industrial scale into fish landing site in Gunjur on daily bases is too dangerous to continue; it has to stop immediately. For a state Minister to stand in front of a national audience and declare that fishmeal waste coming from GL is safe to be dumped into the sea where daily fish catches are landed without tangible proof is very worrying for us as a community. Until you can prove our results otherwise, I think it is wrong for you to declare GL’s waste as safe. We the concerned citizen of Kombo south are calling on you to retract your statement that the fishmeal GL are dumping into the local sea are safe.

Besides environmental damages, we are suffering from these fishmeal factories which relies on small pelagics. Our food security is under serious threat, the majority of Gambians lives on less than a dollar a day, these small pelagics provide the locals with their cheapest and surest source of protein. Right now GL is exporting 32,000 kg [32 tons] of fishmeal powder on monthly bases. If we consider the output other four fishmeal factories that are operating in the Gambia, we are talking about 160,000 kg [160 tons] of fishmeal exiting Gambia’s ports on monthly bases. How can we sustain this as a nation? Right now the locals are competing with these factories for this quickly dwindling essential natural resources, thus putting lots of pressure on the locals on making ends meet. As a nation recovering from twenty years of brutal dictatorship, this is one problem too many. I am calling on you like the environment Minister to engage other stakeholders who are responsible for issuing an operational license to these factories to introduce stringent measures to safeguard of natural resources from overexploitation.

Ahmed Manjang

M.Sc. Medical and Molecular Microbiology

Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

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