FAO takes action to deal with landslides and floods in Freetown

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is helping the Government of Sierra Leone and other humanitarian partners respond to disastrous landslides and floods in Freetown and its environs.  

Residents of the Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, woke up on Monday, 14 August 2017 to devastating floods and landslides. Freetown has received above average rainfall for the past month and has also had bouts of extreme rainfall on specific days. On that fateful day, a portion of the Sugar Loaf Mountain collapsed and damaged or destroyed nearly 350 buildings while most residents were still asleep.

The latest statistic from the Sierra Leone’s Office of National Security (ONS), as on Wednesday, 23 August reported that 495 bodies were discovered, 350 houses destroyed, 5905 people were displaced and 810 missing.  

The President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma raised the national security threat to Level 3 in direct response to the unfolding emergency, and also called for support from the UN and donors.

FAO response to the disaster

FAO was actively involved in rescue and evacuation and, provided the first images of the incident working with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and UNOSAT. It has also been involved in technical support to the food and nutrition pillar, resettlement pillar, vulnerability risk assessment and joint United Nations rapid assessment.

On the first day of the incident, the government’s response team was overwhelmed with the amount of causalities caused by the tragedy, and there were not enough ambulances to evacuate the victims. FAO provided two vehicles and staff to help in evacuating the injured to the hospital for treatment.

FAO requested and secured the first satellite images of the incident, activating the UN Chapter on Space and Major Disasters with the support of UNOOSA. Quick action by FAO was critical as the cloud cover prevented any further satellite images from being taken during the rest of the week.

Four maps were created out of the images, depicting the type of landslide, the exact extend of mud flow, the number of buildings, roads and infrastructure affected and the number of people that may have been impacted. The maps helped organizations plan their response. A programme Coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies wrote, “Many thanks indeed for this great help and support.” The maps formed the foundation upon which a layer of drone imagery produced by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) was added, resulting in a joint presentation which was shared with the government.

The FAO is also a member of food and nutrition pillar, supporting the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) and partners to develop a response plan. The Organization is a member of the shelter pillar, technically supporting and advising the National Commission for Social Action (NACSA) and partners with the relocation and resettlement of affected people on land tenure issues, and also technically supporting the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the Environmental Vulnerability Risk Assessment Group.

Going forward

According to the FAO Representative in Sierra Leone, Nyabenyi Tipo, the Organization hopes to continue to support long-term recovery and strengthen resilience. This falls within Priority Area 3 of the 2017 -2019 Country Programming Framework (CPF). “Over the next three, FAO will work to increase resilience and social protection for vulnerable groups. This will include continued work to strengthen Early Warning Systems and ensure early action”, she stated.

Tipo added that FAO hopes to support the design and implementation of risk informed and shock-responsive social protection to help overcome chronic poverty, as well as to better respond to short-term shocks in food and nutrition security and linking those to longer term agricultural development.

She said that, FAO will also work to ensure better land use planning and management, as part of its work on promoting of responsible governance and sustainable management of natural resources.  “We plan to bring in a forestry and land use specialist, as well as a livelihoods specialist, to contribute to the post-disaster needs assessment”, she noted.

By assisting the immediate response, the FAO hopes to strengthen the resilience of communities through supporting the existing systems and instruments, including land use management so that the likelihood of such tragedies is minimized.


Keifa Jaward

Communication Consultant, FAO Sierra Leone