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Disaster simulations in Sierra Leone help prepare flood-prone communities

August 31, 2016 

Sierra Leone is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of global climate change, partly as a result of human-caused degradation of the environment. In September 2015, Sierra Leone’s capital encountered its most devastating flood in history, temporarily rendering almost 5,000 people homeless, damaging properties and causing substantial impacts on local livelihoods.

The once thickly forested hill slopes of the Freetown Peninsula and Western Rural Area, for example, are largely denuded. Many people consider the Freetown hills ideal to build homes, as they are less crowded than the densely populated lower lying areas of the city.

To prepare for similar emergencies in the future, and protect especially those communities that are most vulnerable, the Disaster management Department (DMD) of the Office of National Security (ONS) in alliance with the Sierra Leone Meteorological Department (SLMD) organised a three-day simulation exercise.

The exercise was supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), through a Global Environment Facility (GEF) financed project that focuses on strengthening climate information and early warning systems for resilient development and adaptation. Members from over 50 communities living upstream and downstream from the Bumbuna Dam, the largest dam in Sierra Leone, participated in local disaster preparedness and response exercises.

DMD Director, Mr. John Vandy Rogers, said Bumbuna was selected because it houses a critical national infrastructure. The Bumbuna Dam is the country’s biggest hydroelectric facility, and the surrounding communities are vulnerable to disasters such as floods or dam failures – especially during the rainy season.

“We hope to help communities build partnerships that would prove effective in saving lives and properties, and preserve stability. Also with UNDP support, we have developed a Flood Preparedness Plan for Sierra Leone,” said Mr. Rogers, adding that disaster management is multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral, and that the DMD has been working towards ensuring comprehensive preparedness for disasters, in collaboration with UN Agencies in the country.

An Emergency Action Unit (EAU) was created within the Bumbuna Watershed Management Authority (BWMA) to manage disaster issues at the downstream area of the dam, where water currents are normally high. BWMA Team Leader, Mrs. Hawa Kandeh, said the EAU forewarns of incoming excess water. Some people cultivate lands close to the running water because they believe it is well-irrigated, and several drowning accident have happened in the past. “We have field agents on bikes who visit the villages to give safety talks and monitor water levels, and alert them in cases of excess water release from the dam,” she said.

Building on this exercise, the BWMA with support from DMD and UNDP will establish community-based early warning systems for the 40 most vulnerable downstream communities, so that they can respond timely when there is a flood alert and avert risks to their lives and livelihoods.

UNDP, through its Energy, Environment and Natural Resource Management Cluster, works in vulnerable communities to reduce the impacts of climate change and risks of natural and man-made disasters in Sierra Leone by reinforcing and supporting institutions and communities to properly prevent or manage natural disasters.

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