No Pleasure in the Pathless Woods
The Legal and Implementation Challenges of Tree Planting in Freetown
Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the forested Lion Mountains, Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, was originally planned to house 300,000 people. But the 1991-2002 civil war triggered a massive influx of people from the provinces and the city is now crowded far beyond its capacity. With a population of 1.2 million – still growing at 3% each year – many Freetonians understandably have found it cheaper and more pleasant to avoid the slums and settle in the forested hills around the city. A moratorium on building in the area was put in place, but has been very weakly enforced.
Over a decade, incoming settlers cleared more than 800,000 hectares of forest. Then a tragedy struck which was to change everything. In 2017, huge mudslides killed over 1,000 people and made 3,000 homeless. Knowing that the mudslides had been precipitated by the massive deforestation caused by thousands of home-builders, and that heavy tropical rains would make the risk a growing one, the Freetown City Council decided to urgently and aggressively reforest the scarred land. It established a project for which the Oxford Policy Fellow was to serve as the legal advisor – providing the legal direction and documentation needed to ensure the project and all parties involved were on a secure footing.