Sierra Leone’s catastrophic mudslide that buried more than 600 mostly poor people was not just an act of God.
Local reporters on the ground have begun to ask why there was no safe housing for thousands of low-income Freetown residents, many of whom cobbled together their own homes with little oversight, few permits, no central planning and in a zone known to flood.
“Why after 10 years in power and several promises, has the Koroma government not been able to deliver on its promises, especially in terms of local cost housing, environmental management and land policy?” Abdul Rashid Thomas, a reporter with The Sierra Leone Telegraph, demanded to know.
This week, a report by Amnesty International was released, backing his concerns.
“The scale of the human tragedy in Freetown is, sadly, very much man-made,” wrote Makmid Kamara, Amnesty’s deputy director of Global Issues. “The authorities should have learned lessons from previous similar incidents and put in place systems to prevent, or at least minimize, the consequences of these disasters.”
Critics reminded President Ernest Bai Koroma of a speech made in December 2012 at the opening of parliament when he said, “Mr. Speaker, we will develop a comprehensive national land use planning and mapping system based on agro-ecological and economic potentials and social requirements. … We will set aside land for allocation to the development of social services, especially in urban areas and especially for youth development and empowerment. We will also identify and map areas which are prone to natural calamities like floods, landslides and drought for national preparedness.”
Also in the Telegraph, Dr. Julius Spencer wrote, “For the past days, I have been quite tearful … because this disaster had been predicted for a while now by myself and many others, as it was so obvious. The deforestation, the unplanned constructions, the blocking of waterways, building in valleys at the foot of mountains, etc.”
Even as recently as a few months ago, warnings had been issued and people had been advised to move out of disaster prone areas, he said. The Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers had written to government a number of times about the dangers posed by the kind of environmental degradation taking place.
He continued, “Unfortunately, all these warnings were not heeded by those who built the houses in the disaster prone areas as well as the government itself.”
Meanwhile, international aid for flood victims has poured in. Among those making on-site visits were President Alpha Conde of neighboring Guinea (also chairman of the African Union), World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone Parminder Brar, and UNICEF representative Dr. Hamid El-Bashir.
Regrettably, reports that the celebrated Barbadian singer Rihanna had donated $2 million dollars to the flood and mudslide victims turned out to be “fake news.”