Anticipated crisis impact
The height of the rainy season is expected in August, with 90% of Sierra Leone’s yearly rainfall normally recorded in July and August (UCL 2018). Western Area Urban and Western Area Rural districts are particularly vulnerable due to their high population density, proximity to the coast and deforestation in the neighouring hills (UNFPA 2018, SLURC 2018). The recent flooding of 14 July 2020 raises a number of concerns regarding the level of preparedness. There has already been minor displacement but no assessment of the needs of those displaced highlighting the limited capacity of emergency response in Sierra Leone (Sierra Leone Telegraph 15/07/2020).
The recent urban sprawl in Freetown has resulted in a population of over one million. The city was originally designed to house and provide WASH facilities for 300,000 people (Thomson Reuters Foundation 02/11/2017). High population density has lead to urban expansion in areas particularly at risk of flooding, heightened the pressure on sewage systems and put increasing strain on already unstable ground.
In the past five years, four major instances of flooding and landslides have occurred across the country affecting some 220,000 people (Freetown City Council 01/07/2018). In August 2017, a major mudslide caused by heavy rainfall displaced 11,000 people (ICRC 30/10/2019). Over 450 people died in what was a man-made disaster following uncontrolled deforestation and building on unstable terrain in the neighbouring hills of Freetown (DW 18/08/2017). In 2019, more flooding occurred in August affecting the livelihoods of some 5,400 people (ICRC 18/02/2020).
Malaria and diarrhoea are already present in the country, particularly in informal settlements across Freetown (Government of Sierra Leone 2018). Flooding heightens the risk of these diseases spreading, particularly waterborne diseases with cholera still being a risk since an outbreak in 2012. There are between 27 and 61 informal settlements, depending on the definition, scattered along the coastline and with limited access to health facilities (SLURC 2018).