By Abubakarr Kamara | The AfricaPaper
Freetown, Sierra Leone – Four people have died and several thousands homeless as torrential rain swept through Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, last Wednesday triggering severe flooding, about three weeks after the country reported to have treated its last patient with Ebola, an infectious and generally fatal disease that killed more than 13,000 people nation-wide.
Properties worth billions of Leones were destroyed according to a government statement. Several people were injured, houses washed away and vehicles destroyed.
Since the flood devastation, government has warned people to remain indoors, while those displaced have taken refuge at the national football stadium. More rainfall is in the forecast for much of this week to early next week.
“Four deaths have so far been confirmed while properties worth billions of Leones have either been carted away by the flooding or destroyed while several settlements were devastated and many people left injured and homeless,” said Abdulai Barraytay, a government spokesman.
Contrary to a government statement on the number of confirmed deaths due to the flooding, Zainab Yillah – a resident of Lumley said she counted up to five dead bodies in her area. She noted deaths reported in other parts of Freetown.
“I cannot comprehend why the government would report four deaths when in fact we have more than 10 deaths that Wednesday,” Yillah said. “Three school kids lost their lives around Juba, and the body of a teenager was found along the beach; while a young lady got swept into the ditches by the heavy tide along Congo Cross.”
The government provides first line of action in the form of emergency aid and relocated victims to the Siaka Stevens Stadium for those in the west and both the Brima Attouga Mini Stadium at Cline Town and the Trade Center field at Kissy Dock Yard for those in the east.
The police and the military were called in to help maintain order and salvage the situation.
Philip Kainessie – a victim from Grafton said he lost a son and part of his house was swept away by the flood, rendering him and his family homeless.
“My family was among the first to report (to) the Brima Attouga Stadium that Wednesday evening, and we were told to wait till the next day for registrations,” Kainessie said. “We slept on the stands and in the morning there was no emergency worker around. I had to move my family to a relative who had earlier offered me a room in his house for my family of five.”
On Thursday evening Red Cross and Save the Children joined the emergency team to remedy the situation. While Red Cross was distributing blankets and mattresses to victims, Save the Children opened a center for kids to keep them away from the trauma and the hassles their parents are going through as they stand in long queues to have their names on the registration list.
As of Friday morning, more than 2,000 people had been registered at the three centers identified by government according to Social Welfare workers attached to those emergency centers.
“All of those registered are now receiving free meals – three times a day, medication, sleeping materials, clothing and learning materials for the kids. This was made possible through donations from local and international organizations operating in the country,” said Mohamed Sillah, a social welfare worker .
While some of these efforts have been doing fairly well, waste management and poor drainage network have been a major bane to the government and Sierra Leoneans.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held an interactive news conference to sensitize and inform the public about the causes, impact and steps to be taken to salvage the situation and prevent flooding but barely a week later, Sierra Leone experienced one of its worst flooding since independence.
Though the EPA Executive Chairperson, Madam Jatou Jallow had warned that a single flooding caused by climate change and deforestation could envelop over thousands of people and has the ability to destroy every sector of the country, no serious measures were put in place. A human rights lawyer, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai says Freetown disaster was waiting to happen noting that there are no country planning and housing regulations all over the country.
“Every development move is being politicized,” said Abdulai. “ It’s time for government to show strong leadership in disaster management and time also for Sierra Leoneans to learn a lesson from all these catastrophic events and put safety measures into practice.”
Experts believe Freetown flooding was as a result of deforestation and poor housing construction along the coastline; on hilltops, floodplains and waterways. Rain water runs freely where forest used to be but have been deforested either for construction purposes or to be used as fuel for cooking purposes.
According to Momodu A. Bah – EPA’s Deputy Director in charge of coordinating Climate Change, the climate is changing due to man’s activities which influence the micro-climate of the city. He said unless people are relocated from disaster prone areas and an appropriate adaptation and mitigation strategies to avert disaster is adopted, the situation will remain the same.
“EPA-SL has provided financial support for the construction of guard posts and pillars to prevent further encroachment of the catchment and we are currently working in collaboration with the European Union and UNDP to develop a National Climate Change Policy, Strategy and Action Plan which will assist government to tackle environmental emergencies,” Bah said.
The Deputy Director said the EPA-SL is also sourcing funds from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for an adaptation of USD12 million to implement community adaptation projects, which might include relocation packages among others for those living in disaster prone areas. |TAP| Africa’s Newspaper of Record.
The AfricaPaper: Abubakarr Kamara, based in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, is The AfricaPaper’s West Africa Correspondent.