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Sierra Leone News: York Island, a Forgotten History

Inhabitants of York Island watching their dugout canoes that can go far at sea to fishThe once pristine and bustling Island of York which is a part of the Bonthe Island Municipality presently stands the risk of relegation from history because of the recent declaration of the Sherbro River as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
Business life is now almost dormant, social amenities are conspicuously absent and social welfare amenities in virtual collapse all due to neglect.
Residents who had enjoyed the bustling York Island, especially in the days when it hosted the headquarter of the prominent Patterson Zochonis and Co. Limited company (PZ), can now only reminisce the history of the Island given its present derelict state.
The Mayor of Bonthe Municipal Council, Layemin Joe Sandi disclosed to Awoko that indigenes of the Island are leaving to other places in the country “to seek a better life”, a situation he attributed to the declaration of the Sherbro River as a Marine Protected Area and the poor or nonexistent of basic social amenities on the Island.
“The Island is facing massive exodus. The Sherbro River had been the main source of livelihood for the people of York Island because it is no longer what it was, people are relocating to other settlements in the Bonthe Municipality like Mbokie and Manya along the ocean where they engage in their usual trade and where life condition is appreciable to them,” Mayor Joe Sandi explained.
The Mayor furthered that the Island lacks proper healthcare delivery infrastructure as there is only one Community Health Officer (CHO) serving in a derelict clinic. He added that pure drinking is conspicuously unavailable on the Island as water drilled from boreholes are salty and has exposed the people to lots of sicknesses that have resulted to deaths.
Mayor Sandi further noted that the Island which is mostly sandy is now “a flood-prone area” owing to the fact that all the drainages on the Island have collapsed. He said during the rains once the sand gets saturated there is no means of getting the water flow into the sea and that the water settlements also breed mosquitoes and cause the spread of malaria.
The Municipal Council is therefore faced with the challenge of maintaining the Island’s people, Mayor Joe Sandi revealed, noting that to ensure this, “we are investing in a large palm kernel plantation projects on the available arable land on the Island as a way of providing employment and giving assurance of an alternative means of livelihood for the people and the future generation,” he said.
One of the residents, John Square also told Awoko that not only has the MPA Declaration affected their means of livelihood, but that the prevailing poor state of health on the Island due to lack of clean drinking water has made York “very scary to dwell” he said. He claimed that the Declaration “is a blanket restriction that has left us with no alternative for livelihood and this has made life very difficult for us to cope,” he said stressing that fishing is what they know and is what they do for a living.
Square maintained that since they cannot afford bigger canoes to venture into the high seas to fish, they are forced to move out as there is nothing left on the Island to hold on to. He said the very few people remaining are the bold ones that take huge risks venturing into the high seas with the small dugout canoes they are used to paddling and fishing.
By Poindexter Sama
Monday October 07, 2013

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