Sierra Leone: Mudslide - Emergency Plan of Action Operation n°2 (MDRSL007) Six months Update

A. Situation analysis

Description of the disaster

In the early hours of 14th August, torrential rains caused parts of Mount Sugar Loaf, a range of hills surrounding Freetown, to slide into the Regent Village vicinity. This led to heavy loss of life and property at the epicentre and downstream at Juba, Lumley, Kaningo/Kamayama axis.

According to the Public Health National Emergency centre, 413 bodies were conveyed to the central morgue between 14-15 August 2017. Of these, only six bodies were identified by family members. Upon request from the family members, two bodies were handed over to the families. The rest of the bodies were buried at Waterloo cemetery. The search and rescue continued and to date, the Office of the National Security (ONS) has confirmed to 502 deaths and 600 more classified 600 as missing.
The event caused widespread destruction of habitats with at least 1,245 houses and over 300 houses destroyed and partially damaged respectively. According to ONS`s latest information, the mudslides rendered 11,816 people displaced of which over 7,000 are sheltered in temporary camps in Freetown.
Response teams, led by the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and SLRCS volunteers, conducted evacuation, search & rescue, removed dead bodies and provided medical care to the injured. The role of the Red Cross has been well recognized in the media. Reuters, AFP, ABC, CNN, BBC (various), EFE, DPA, CTV (Canada) recognized the SLRCS as the first respondent with communities and government armed force units deployed to support the search and rescue efforts.

The biggest damage was on the shelters; houses were demolished by the floods with most of them rendered without a salvage value, those that remained were either inhabitable or partially damaged. Moreover, the livelihoods of the affected people were completely disrupted. According to primary ONS assessments: 52% of the populations was living on small trade whereas 18% relied on physical labour skilled or non-skilled and 6 % were in in formal transport including motor cyclists with 7% formally salaried.
The government established IDP camps in Freetown. Temporary shelters and other basic services such as water, sanitation, health was provided to the displaced families. Food was provided by WFP in a wet ration of three meals a day. During this period, Red cross is provided hygiene promotion and psychosocial support with ambulance referral service on daily basis to the camp population.

The locations affected around Freetown of Juba, Regent, Matome, Bambaira Culvert, Kamayama, Jahkingdom Kaningo and Dwazark are densely populated settlements. The site of the mudslide on the hill at Regent is adjacent to a squatter settlement on a restricted and high-risk area. On the foot of the same hill a permanent stream was interfered with by the mudslide, the saturated and highly mobile debris flow carrying soft clay (mud), boulders altered the width of the river causing it to change its course and increasing its volume acerbating the effect in terms of scope of coverage and destruction. Indeed, an equal proportion of death and destruction was inflicted by the increased water volume and change of course of the natural water way. In most of the affected places were extended pockets of squatter settlements in unplanned, risky and undesignated settlement according to the government.

Down the valley the populations that were flooded and destroyed comprised of poor population that already lived in a deplorable condition of housing, hygiene and sanitation in crowded informal settlements. Apart from the over 11,000 directly affected, over 20,000 more are in risk in the cross section of the affected villages Apparently, the human effects on the fragile and risky hilly, valley and drainage topography in competition for settlement is daring. The hills are deforested, and the water ways are squeezed with fragile banks and with multiple break points which make it susceptible to flood with the heavy rains and any other slight changes.

Moreover, the poor living conditions of the populations high at risk, exposes them to other environmental hazards including disease outbreaks. The water sources especially their traditional wells are damaged and or contaminated and the sanitation situation is extremely wanting, open defecation and using rivers and flowing water bodies as disposal agents is a glaring disaster.

Apart from emergency interventions of the current disaster, increasing the level of information and preparedness capacity of the affected communities is desirable for mitigation of apparent potential hazards.

Unfortunately, many communities, which already pre-existing poor infrastructure and weak basic services were the most affected by mudslide and floods in the country’s capital city. All six communities were badly hit by the mudslide making scores of households homeless and destroying their means of livelihood. Water sources were contaminated posing the threat of water borne diseases. Gardens and agricultural fields were affected by the floods leaving crops, including vegetables and root crops damaged. The SLRCS and IFRC reached out and provided both relief and recovery support to the communities to restore their dignity and improve their livelihoods.