Freetown floods

Sierra Leone residents of Freetown view damage to property due to a mudslide in the suburb of Regent behind Guma reservoir, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 14 August 2017

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Sierra Leone suffers floods frequently

Freetown is a metropolis squeezing itself into the small area between the mountains and the ocean, in a rustic with the very best annual rainfall in Africa.

In August – the peak of the wet season – a median of 539.9mm falls on Sierra Leone’s capital.

So it comes as no shock that Freetown is a metropolis used to flooding.

However Monday’s rain introduced with it a disaster which left hundreds dead, and can little doubt be adopted by finger-pointing and blame shifting.

Was it merely the results of local weather change and geography, or one thing extra avoidable?

“Sure, the floods and mudslide have been attributable to nature. However they might have been averted or a minimum of mitigated,” the BBC’s Umaru Fofana wrote on his Fb web page.

“If we harm the atmosphere, the atmosphere will struggle again. If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. It is that straightforward.”

‘Individuals all over the place’

Freetown was first established within the late 1700s, a house for freed slaves from the US and UK.

Its place was chosen not for what was on land, nonetheless, however what the ocean might provide: the world’s third largest pure harbour.

Because of this, Freetown ended up in an space of heavily-forested mountains, which has not been accommodating for a rising inhabitants – at the moment across the million mark.

“It’s the highest density of individuals I’ve ever seen,” mentioned Olivia Acland, a contract journalist based mostly in Freetown. “The quantity of individuals if you stroll via the streets, and the visitors. There are simply individuals all over the place.”

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Freetown is constructed within the hills

Lots of these individuals dwell within the metropolis’s casual settlements, of which there are greater than 60, in line with Slum Dwellers International.

Right here, tiny tin properties filled with giant households might be seen squeezed on the banks of rivers, the edges of mountains, on the sting of the ocean.

However, says Jamie Hitchen, of the Africa Analysis Institute, it’s not simply the town’s poorest residents who’re constructing their properties in areas that are contributing to the flooding threat.

Among the metropolis’s wealthier residents are additionally liable for the deforestation destabilising the soil, tempted greater into the hills by the cooler air and spectacular views of the Peninsula Forest space, close to to the place the mudslide occurred.

“It’s occurring at each ranges,” Mr Hitchen mentioned. “Sadly, the influence [of disasters] is on the poorer residents.”

‘A failure of motion’

The federal government is conscious of the issue – and the way it may improve as the results of local weather change start to take maintain.

Two years in the past, Mohamed Bah, deputy director of Sierra Leone’s Atmosphere Safety Company, warned “irresponsible actions taken on the hills will have an effect on the town vastly”.

“Till we cease dumping waste into drainages, till we cease clearing the bushes, we are going to at all times face extreme penalties of local weather change,” he informed Sierra Leone’s Standard Times Newspaper.

And but, Mr Hitchen feels there’s a lack of political will to take care of the problem head on.

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There are about 60 casual settlements in Freetown

“The concepts have been put ahead, the failure has been by way of political motion,” he mentioned.

Mr Hitchen added: “There’s technically a moratorium on constructing within the space of the Peninsula Forest. That’s there in writing, however not in any sort of enforcement.”

There have been makes an attempt to maneuver individuals out of hurt’s approach. After the final main flooding in 2015, Sierra Leone’s authorities did make an effort to maneuver individuals dwelling in a single settlement to someplace safer and extra spacious.

“They supplied homes, however they didn’t join them to the grid – they didn’t join them to jobs,” Mr Hitchen mentioned.

The top outcome was that lots of the residents quickly moved themselves again into the guts of the town, the place they might discover work.

There’s one other downside contributing to the flooding: the garbage blocking the drains.

“There is no such thing as a clearing of waste, the drains refill. Everyone seems to be saying it isn’t our duty,” Mr Hitchen mentioned.

“However even when they addressed the problem of waste assortment, there may be nowhere for it to go. Each Freetown’s dump websites ought to have been closed in 2009.”

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Media captionSierra Leone mudslides: Rescue and restoration operation in Freetown

However regardless of the distinctive challenges of Freetown. this isn’t only a downside in Sierra Leone.

The 2008 Unjust Water report discovered examples of worsening floods in Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique and Kenya.

It was typically, the report concluded, attributable to “the rising occupation of floodplains, elevated runoff from arduous surfaces, insufficient waste administration and silted up drainage” – all elements mentioned to contribute to the issue in Freetown.

Local weather change was merely one other contributing issue.