Relief To Sierra Leon Has Been Received

It’s been almost 5 months since torrential rains caused widespread flooding and a mountainside to collapse on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, sending a blanket of mud into several communities. Life is gradually returning to normal, but residents of the devastated regions face a slog toward recovery.

More than 1,000 people have died from the mudslide and flood that hit Sierra Leone's capital nearly two weeks ago, Hundreds of burials have taken place, while rescue and recovery efforts have continued through rain that could bring fresh tragedy due to unsafe housing conditions.

Key points:

  • Hundreds of burials have taken place after the mudslide
  • The disaster occurred on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown
  • Thousands of people living in areas at risk during heavy rains have been evacuated
  • In addition to the thousands dead and buried, disease has run rampant and health problems have gone untreated.
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METAD was able to partner with clinics and hospitals in the area to deliver pharmaceutical supplies and help provide clean water to prevent a health crisis.

“We’re getting there, but the pace is still slow,” said Ramatu Jalloh, director of advocacy and communications for Save the Children in Sierra Leone.

A massive relief effort is underway, with the primary focus on the hardest hit areas, Jalloh said. But other communities that were less affected by the mudslide but were still inundated with water, such as the densely populated slum community of Kroo Bay, were still in dire need of help, she said.

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Many roads in the mudslide zone remain impassable, getting food is tough, and structures — many of them shanties that once provided shelter in the port city of around 1 million people — are now buried in the muck-covered landscape.

The government had initially decided to house displaced residents with host families whose homes remained intact, but that proved to be impractical, said Zynab Kamara, emergency response manager in Sierra Leone for the international charity ActionAid.

“Most people are struggling with livelihoods right now … so to put more people into a family that’s already crowded has its own dynamics and its implications,” Kamara said.

Tent camps have since been erected to temporarily house the displaced, many of whom initially sought refuge in a schools, mosques, churches and community centers, as well as with friends and family.

Lack of access to potable water is great concern, aid workers said.

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“The floods affected the water infrastructure and contaminated existing water sources,” said Phebeans Oriaro Weya, Oxfam’s acting country director for Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organization warned that residents of affected areas were particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of pre-existing infectious diseases, such as malaria, typhoid and cholera. The last major cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone was in 2012, according to WHO.

The international health agency said it was working with local health authorities to distribute cholera response kits, including tools used to quickly test for the disease. On Tuesday, the agency confirmed cholera vaccines from the global stockpile were being shipped to Sierra Leone, providing half a million people with access to the life-saving preparation in the coming weeks.

A hygiene awareness campaign was launched and community volunteers recruited to spread the word about not drinking tap or well water, said Kamara of ActionAid, which has been distributing food, water, clothing and hygiene kits to those affected by the disaster.

In conjunction with METAD's efforts and delivered supplies to the region, Freetown can begin to rebuild and protect themselves against the many infectious diseases that are spreading. 

Alec Winter