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As World Habitat Day celebrated…

Slum dwellers lament: ‘we are homeless not hopeless’

October 6, 2015 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

Sierra Leone, through the Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) and the Young Men Christian Association, joined the world yesterday, 5 October in celebrations to mark World Habitat Day.

The theme for this year’s celebrations is: “Public Spaces for All, Remove Slum from the People and not the People from the Slum”.

World Habitat Day is observed every year on the first Monday of October throughout the world. It was officially designated by the United Nations and first celebrated in 1986. The purpose of the day is to reflect on the state of cities and towns and the basic human right to adequate shelter, and to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the habitat of future generations.

Flood affected slum dwellers used the occasion to express unrelenting hope even in the face of hopelessness as the recent flood left many of them homeless and destitute.

Speaking to Concord Times, Tom Menjoh, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer of Pull Slum Pan Pipul at YMCA, said the purpose of World Habitat Day celebration is to allow reflections on the state of towns and citizens, vis-a-vis the basic right to adequate shelter, while reminding the world that slum people have the right and responsibility to shape the future of towns and cities.

He said the celebration themes include inclusive housing and social services; a safe and healthy living environment for all, with a particular consideration for children, youth, women, the elderly and disabled; affordable and sustainable  transport and energy; promotion, protection and restoration of green urban spaces; safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.

He said the objective of World Habitat Day is to raise awareness about the need for well designed and managed public spaces and streets; to develop processes and tools to promote and ensure that public spaces are conducive and safe for women and children, older persons and the disabled; contribute to a policy dialogue that focuses on a broad range of issues related to integrating public spaces and streets into city planning.

According to Mr. Menjoh, slum dwellers would not celebrate but rather solemnly observe the day in Sierra Leone as a result of the 16 September flood disaster in Freetown, which is still fresh in their minds and because of the fact that government has asked slum dwellers to evacuate slum areas in Freetown.

He said they work with slum communities and slum dwellers and that they think it is not a prudent decision to take people from the slum as government should rather “pull the slum from the people” by upgrading where possible and build big drainages in those communities so that rain water would pass through, thus preventing devastating floods, which cause loss of lives and properties.

He said the day was being observed in eight slum communities across Freetown – Kroo Bay, Funkia, CKG, Crab Tong, Colbot, Cockle Bay, Texaco and Susan’s Bay.

Ishmael Dumbuya, chairman of CKG community, said they were sad to celebrate the day because of last month’s flooding disaster, and especially as the government is planning to relocate them to faraway places instead of improving safety and security in slum communities to prevent future disaster.

Yirah Conteh, chairman of the Federation of Urban Poor Sierra Leone (FEDUP), said the day would be rather observed than celebrated, the reason slum dwellers came out holding placards highlighting their needs.

He lamented that unlike other counties, both the central and local governments do not work with slum communities, adding that they even do not have data on the number of people living in the slums.

Conteh claimed that slum dwellers constitute 45% of the population in Freetown, and that the government only shows them respect when elections are due.

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