Susan Waffa-Ogoo, the Secretary of State for the Department for Fisheries, Natural Resources and the Environment, formally launched a ground- breaking national hotline number on Wednesday, September 8th 2004 during an official ceremony at the State House. The toll free number (3473 on mobiles, 165 on land lines) is envisioned to provide a valuable tool to the Department of Forestry in their efforts to combat bushfires and illegal activities plaguing the Gambian forests.
“Great efforts must be undertaken to protect the forests of The Gambia,” urged Jato Sillah, Director of Forestry, noting that without trees, there will be no life. “We can all see the destructive effects of desertification in every sector of the society. This trend must be reversed. The Department of Forestry is working hand in hand with communities to manage the forests and this toll free number will drastically improve communication between foresters and the communities within which they serve”, he said.
The toll free number, the first of its kind, was jointly activated during the ceremony by Africell, Gamcell and Gamtel. The mobile number 3473, which spells FIRE on phone keypads, and 165 on landlines, can be used without charge anywhere in the country in order to contact directly the Department of Forestry in case of emergency.
“We are very proud to be part of this gathering today”, declared Pierre Cherry, representing Gamcel and Gamtel. “Despite the fact that we are competitors, we must collectively embrace initiatives such as this which are essential to the continued development of The Gambia.”
The communication sector, when confronted with the knowledge that they alone possessed the technology to significantly assist the work of the Department of Forestry and supporting the work of Gambians across the country, swiftly responded to the task.
“Africell quickly realized that the biggest hurdle facing all parties was time,” stated Martin Brady, Africell’s Marketing Manager. “It is imperative to speed up the communication element of reporting a fire outbreak and giving the opportunity for the fire team to be mobilized to the scene. If a call could be relayed directly to the Forest Department, the response time and subsequently the damage to the effected area would be dramatically reduced.”
Africell, who initiated this toll free number and have been staunch supporters of forestry and the environment in the past, spearheading activities, such as the “No Trees-No Life Road Show” in July 2004, explained that this event, while very significant, was just one step of many towards improving the lives of all Gambians.
“We believe that technology should he used for the enhancement of the people of the nation,” stated Brady. “It should be used to enrich, improve and to assist our customers as well as benefit the entire community at large. This is not the end of the fight for Africell. It is only one hurdle in the sensitisation of the key message of forest preservation.”
Momadou K Cham, Permanent Secretary for the Department of Fisheries, Natural Resources, and Environment, thanked Africell, Gamcell and Gamtel for their hard work and urged all parties to continue to aggressively educate people on the number to ensure itseffectiveness.
“We must all actively inform the Gambian community about this number so that the toll free hotline can be best utilized,” asserted Cham. “We beseech Africell, Gamcell and Gamtel to continue their efforts and help us make this number as successful as possible.”
Susan Waffo-Ago concluded the ceremony by making the first official call on the hotline number. Dialing 3473 on her mobile, Waffo-Ago immediately reached the Forestry Office in Banjul and informed them that the hotline was online and ready to use.