Investing in watersheds: A New African Water Fund in Sierra Leone

5 Apr 2024 by The Water Diplomat

A new water fund in Sierra Leone is the latest addition to a series of African Water Funds which invest in the protection of water towers for long term water security of the continent’s cities. The launch of The Western Area Peninsula Water Fund (WAPWF) was marked through an investment of U.S. $ 2 million – to leverage a U.S. $ 20 million initiative - to restore the watershed on which Greater Freetown depends.

The government of Sierra Leone has committed seed funding to the project, as a tool to leverage investment through a public private partnership model which aims to protect and restore critical ecological infrastructure in the Western Area Peninsula – a protected area of more than 180,000 km² that acts as the water tower for the capital Freetown.

According to Sierra Leone’s National Water Resources Management Authority, the Western Area Peninsula forests play an essential role in supplying water and in maintaining water quality. Forests serve as natural water collection, filtration, and delivery systems. Forested catchments in the Western Area Peninsula National Park (WAPNP) provide about 90% of Freetown’s water supply.

According to the business case advanced for the project, investing in ecosystem restoration yields considerable benefits for the water sector. Investments in engineered infrastructure solutions to combat water scarcity, it is argued, are important. However, without investments in ecological infrastructure to secure and augment water supply, even the best-built infrastructure will not have enough water to store and transport.

As a result, it is expected that an additional 11,000m³ of water will be available during the dry season in a manner that will ultimately save on the costs of water for poor households. In addition, through the positive changes in land cover that come from restoration of the forests, the amount of sediment entering rivers will be cut in half, thereby extending the lifetime of the Guma reservoir. By stabilizing the water cycle, damages from floods will be reduced. Furthermore , replanting trees will result in carbon sequestration and open up opportunities for agroforestry and nature based tourism. In terms of the business plan for the project, the activity is expected to generate a total of U.S. $ 55 million in economic benefits over a period of 30 years.

According to the Vice President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who launched the  initiative, the project is the first of its kind in West Africa. The project, which was launched on the 23rd of January with Presidential approval, is being implemented in partnership between the Catholic Relief Services and The Nature Conservancy.