The Humanitarian Situation in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Lessons For Ghana

Last week Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown witnessed a devastating mudslide and flooding that claimed more than 400 lives. About 600 others are still reported missing or presumed dead. Without mincing words, the response of the International Community to the Sierra Leonean disaster leaves much to be desired. Ghana’s Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia was in Freetown to present one million dollars worth of relief items to the victims. One can only say better late than never. The least said about the UN, the Western World and the International Media the better.

After all, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah says the Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs? The lingering question however is, could the disaster have been avoided or the impact minimised? The obvious answer is Yes. Indeed, many have referred to the disaster as man-made. BBC reporter Umaru Fofana indicated that most of Freetown's forest cover has been depleted. Construction of houses is poorly regulated and town planning virtually nonexistent. According to some commentators, there were clear signals of a looming disaster and residents in those areas should have been moved out two years ago. The authorities stood aloof and the disaster struck.

Unfortunately, no one is being held responsible for negligence or dereliction of duty. This is not surprising. This is Africa where the Culture of ultimate responsibility is a taboo. Sierra Leone has had more than its fair share of challenges in recent times. From a civil war that killed and maimed thousands of citizens to the outbreak of the dreaded Ebola virus that debilitated the nation and the entire World. It is sad that just when one thought the country had overcome these difficult moments, this disaster struck.

Obviously, this could not be simply a consequence of climate change. It had everything to do with poor environmental practices, poor planning and bad attitudes. It is a fact that parts of Sierra Leone are flood prone but what has been the attitude of residents and citizens to putting up buildings?

The point should be made that, these negative habits permeate the whole of the continent. The 2009 Unjust Water report found examples of worsening floods in Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. The report indicated that this was generally caused by the growing occupation of floodplains, increased runoff from hard surfaces, inadequate waste management and silted drains.

In Ghana for instance, it is common to see people of all classes filling up natural water receptacles, and even lagoons to put up structures. People build on water ways, and dump solid waste, including fridges into drains. One would have thought that after the infamous June 3 disaster, Ghanaians would have changed their attitudes, but that has not been the case. The Sierra Leonean disaster though painful and regrettable, should serve as a wakeup call to citizens and authorities in Ghana to be alive to their responsibilities.

That is why government needs to be commended highly for the relentless war on illegal mining. The contribution of illegal mining to environmental degradation and deforestation is very visible in most of our communities. The clamp down on illegal mining is not enough to prevent flooding and its associated havoc. It should not be too much a task for city authorities to breakdown all buildings in unauthorized places. Business and house owners must be put in charge of drains in front of their houses or businesses. Punitive actions must be taken against officials who are either negligent or connive with people to put up structures in undesirable locations while people are made to build to specification.

Just at about the same time the mudslide and flood disaster happened in Sierra Leone, about 200 people also lost their lives as a result of a landslide in DR Congo. While we mourn and empathize with the people of Sierra Leone and DR. Congo, let us learn lessons from the unfortunate disaster and mend our ways to forestall recurrence.



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