Reclaiming the Lion Mountain (Sierra Leone), from the destructive grip of the fatal and merciless August rainfall.
August 2009 has been one of the most destructive months in the Sierra Leonean calendar ever since the country’s foundation
Kroo Bay Flooding, Freetown
In August 1787 and 1792, the first contingents of freed slave returnees from London and Nova Scotia, Canada, found their tents flooded with rain, leaving behind an epidemic of dysentery which claimed the lives of nearly half of the repatriated ex-slaves.
2009 has been no exception. In August 19th 2009, Sierra Leone saw torrential and fatal rains, which washed away big rocks and trees, and caused landslides which claimed some 20 lives, including children.
For decade after decade, our beautiful-ugly national history has recorded the same disasters, without us ever coming together as a nation to address these fatal reoccurrences.
While they are always claimed to be natural disasters, the death toll this year was not just a result of floods, but was also due to the very poor housing conditions of the people in both the eastern and Kissy Brooks slum areas (Freetown), where four people were killed after being buried in their mud buildings.
A landslide, caused by erosion, brought down both boulders and trees, crushing two women, (one a stranger, who had come to Freetown to shop, and was lodging with an acquaintance); and two girls (a holiday maker from the interior and a little girl adopted by the owner of a slum).
Another fatal disaster took place a week before August 19th, at the Race Course Cemetery, overlooking the Kannikay slum areas. A land slide broke into a mud house erected at the foot of a hill of hanging wet mud, and buried a man in the house, who was quickly rescued by neighbors and rushed to hospital for emergency treatment.
The flood also washed away the wall of the Libyan Embassy, (killing five people), and a house in the wellington area (killing a woman and her two sons). Another six people were reported swept away after the failure of the drainage system.
Freetown’s housing problems only come into public view immediately after disasters such as this, and soon fade away afterwards.
The city of Freetown is over-populated as a result of the rural -urban migration fast-tracked by the decade-long war, when massive numbers of people from the interior flooded into the city for safety and survival. Even after the war, most of them cannot return, because their homes were burnt down and their other means of survival lost.
This large movement of people from rural areas affected has also caused high youth unemployment. Many well-trained and level headed youths are unemployed, making them disgruntled, frustrated and isolated in ghettoes, slums, parks and cemeteries, etc., where they sleep under tables, on verandas, in makeshift shacks and zinc huts, as they cannot afford the rents.
Rents of houses in Freetown
Rents have risen since the end of the war, with the involvement of foreign nationals, companies, Ngos, UNAMSIL and other peace keeping forces, etc. who can pay in dollars, pounds or euros. The demand for houses is now very high and rents are often in dollars rather than leones, our own currency, in order to hide their magnitude.
Even the disabled have been evicted from private rented accomodation, as they could not afford to pay their landlords. They now sleep in front of the central Mosque at Wilberforce Street in Freetown.
Despite post-conflict rebuilding projects to rehabilitate and resettle ex-combatants and war victims, the government could do more to encourage house-building for returnees in a post conflict country like Sierra Leone, by lowering or waiving the tariffs on building materials.
But the rise in the tariff on imported cement, to encourage the monopoly of Leocem, is another big setback, multiplying rents and the demand for houses: a bag of Leocem’s cement, a key building material, costs 36,000.00 leones.
Solutions for housing system in Freetown and Sierra Leone
Hurrarc has found out that there are no effective plans by the authorities to take care of the environment in larger towns including the capital Freetown: either to control erosion or to provide affordable housing, as precautions against such inevitable natural disasters.
As a concerned Ngo, Hurrarc cannot sit and watch this continuous neglect of the lives of poor people from year to year. So we are taking on the responsibilities ourselves by proposing a project to train youths in construction work and to design a low-cost housing system for big towns and district capitals.
To entice people to return to the interior, Hurrarc has established a housing project for both internally displaced people and returnees, based upon the 23 principles of Sergio Pablo Pinhero, prepared for the International Labor Organization (ILO); and before July 2009 had rolled up her blanket of time, we had sent this project proposal to Unhabitat.
Kroo Bay Flooding, Freetown