Other lives do mat­ter

WEEKS AF­TER A SIERRA LEONE MUD­SLIDE KILLED HUN­DREDS, RE­COV­ERY RE­MAINS SLOW

The Nation - - ENVIRONMENT - ANN M SIM­MONS

MUCH has been writ­ten in re­cent weeks about the dis­as­trous dam­age wrought by Hur­ri­canes Irma and Har­vey and the vast sums of money that will be re­quired to get Florida and Texas back on track.

Lit­tle men­tion though is made of the dis­as­ter of epic pro­por­tions that struck the African na­tion of Sierra Leone last month.

Five weeks have passed since tor­ren­tial rains caused wide­spread flood­ing and a moun­tain­side to col­lapse on the out­skirts of its cap­i­tal, Free­town, send­ing a deadly blan­ket of mud into sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties.

Life is grad­u­ally re­turn­ing to nor­mal, but it will be a long time be­fore re­cov­ery in com­plete.

“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.

About 500 peo­ple were killed, more than 600 are be­lieved miss­ing, and al­most 2,000 homes were as a re­sult of the Au­gust 14 mud­slide, ac­cord­ing to hu­man­i­tar­ian aid work­ers. Al­most 6,000 peo­ple were af­fected by the dis­as­ter, the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion said.

The dis­as­ter was an­other grim chap­ter in the re­cent his­tory of the poverty-stricken West African na­tion that has en­dured more than a decade of civil war and an Ebola cri­sis in which al­most 4,000 peo­ple died.

Ex­perts said poor in­fra­struc­ture, de­for­esta­tion and the con­struc­tion of shoddy in­for­mal set­tle­ments on eroded hill­sides contributed to the mud­slide’s death toll.

“While flood­ing is a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter, the scale of the hu­man tragedy in Free­town is, sadly, very much man­made,” Mak­mid Ka­mara, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s deputy di­rec­tor of global is­sues, said in a re­cent state­ment. “The au­thor­i­ties should have learned lessons from pre­vi­ous sim­i­lar in­ci­dents and put in place sys­tems to pre­vent, or at least min­imise, the con­se­quences of th­ese dis­as­ters.”

De­struc­tive floods are com­mon in Free­town, but “due to a lack of reg­u­la­tion and in­suf­fi­cient con­sid­er­a­tion for min­i­mum stan­dards and en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, mil­lions of Sierra Leoneans are liv­ing in dan­ger­ously vul­ner­a­ble homes”, the Amnesty In­ter­na­tional of­fi­cial added.

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

Many roads in the mud­slide zone re­main im­pass­able, getting food is dif­fi­cult, and struc­tures – many of them shanties that once pro­vided shel­ter in the port city of about 1 mil­lion peo­ple – are now buried in muck.

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,” the man­ager said.

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

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

“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 Or­gan­i­sa­tion warned that res­i­dents of af­fected ar­eas were par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to out­breaks of in­fec­tious dis­eases, such as malaria, ty­phoid and cholera.

The last ma­jor cholera out­break in Sierra Leone was in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the WHO.

Weya said Ox­fam was work­ing with part­ners, in­clud­ing Save the Chil­dren, Con­cern World­wide and Ac­tion Against Hunger, to pro­vide drink­ing wa­ter to hun­dreds of those in need, in­clud­ing sup­ply­ing bot­tled wa­ter and truck­ing wa­ter to com­mu­ni­ties.

Peo­ple queue to reg­is­ter at the Saio El­e­men­tary Com­mu­nity School af­ter the mud­slides in Free­town, cap­i­tal of Sierra Leone, on Au­gust 19.

Peo­ple re­ceive clothes at the school af­ter the catas­tro­phe.

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