|Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital city, shares a peninsula with the Western Area Forest Reserve'a small remnant of the Guinean Forests that historically stretched from Guinea to Cameroon. The century-old reserve covers a chain of forested hills that are home to approximately 300 species of birds and a small population of chimpanzees.|
Intense population growth began in Freetown in the 1970s. However, a buffer of forested land remained between the Reserve and the edge of the city. By the mid-1980s, however, the growing city had expanded into the buffer zone and much closer to Reserve borders (1986 image). Between 1991 and 2002, as many as one million people fled to Freetown as a result of war in Sierra Leone. Many of these refugees moved into the hills of the Reserve, where they relied on its resources to survive. Deforestation and land degradation of these valuable protected lands was the result. By 2003, the border of the Reserve had been breached in many places (2003 image), with urban populations encroaching from several directions.
The Reserve is now recognized as vital, not only to the biodiversity and natural systems it supports, but to the people of Freetown as well. The forest is crucial for recharging Freetown's reservoirs, which are already struggling to meet the city's water needs. View detail information