Gborie’s Pen: Freetown disaster mitigation is a mission impossible


By Emmanuel Gborie

Freetown and its surrounding communities have highly been disaster-prone over the years, accounting for successive flooding and mudslides due to obvious reasons which seem not to be handled in the near future. Every raining season, we see Freetown dreadfully muscled and brought to its knees in rubbles, pools and mud in the hands of torrential rains with absolutely no ideal possibility of solving or founding a possible solution in that direction.

Despite all efforts made by government, individuals and organizations in mitigating or preventing such occurrences, yet nothing seems to have been done or achieved and we continue to see many more. I know some people might not agree with me, but from what I’ve seen so far amidst all efforts and strides, I can say Freetown’s disaster mitigation is a mission impossible. Why do I say so?   

In one of President Bio’s comments after a heartbreaking day for families and communities in parts of Freetown because of fatalities and destruction of properties caused by heavy down pour on Monday 28 August, 2022, he highlighted that pour urban planning and mismanagement of the city’s resources are enormous contributor to flooding. He also had stated earlier that the months of August points to the impact and consequence of global warming and climate change.

The City Mayor, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr in her own comment on social media stated that engaging in planting of more tress, land use planning, an environmentally sensitive and building permit regime will save lives.        

The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) after visiting various scenes to ascertain the severity of the reported incidents within Freetown the same day, issued a press release on accounts of the damages, responses and future preventions; stating that people living on hilltops should stop throwing waste into drainages and etc. 

As genuine and true as their submissions may be, my resolve however has always been differing on the causes and prevention or reduction of disasters in Freetown and the reason why I digress is because everyone is failing to mention the real problem or the root cause of these disasters which continues to render every attempts and approach to successfully minimize the City’s susceptibility fruitless. So, I keep wondering why that side of the coin is unfortunately mostly ignored. I want to assume it is an oversight or what.

Consequently, the reason why all the efforts are futile and mitigation of disaster in Freetown will always be a mission impossible is the unconsidered issues of Centralization. Sierra Leone is so centralized to a point that everything that looks like advancement is grounded in the capital city. 

You will agree with me that the migration and influx of people into the capital since the war ended has been massive and increases every year. This has been as a result of the fact that most of the opportunities, facilities for a better life are only accessible when only one is privileged to knock at the corridors of Freetown.

Things are so centralized in Freetown is such a way that you have to come to Freetown to do almost everything, even to do a birth certificate you have to come to Freetown. My younger sister recently needed to change her old birth certificate to do her university entries; you won’t believe that she had to come to Freetown from Kono just to get a new birth certificate.

Till today as we speak, people every day are leaving the provinces to come to the city just to make a living and have a better life because those privileges are limited and largely scarce in other parts of the country. Almost all the lucrative jobs, business, oversea travelling opportunities, government and top learning institutions are only found in Freetown.

So, as people keep migrating into the urban area, the population in the city has largely increased to an extent that the available land scape that is permissible to build upon cannot host the expansions in the city especially now that we are in an era where everyone is fighting hard to own their own properties, considering as well the inflated cost of housing in the capital.  

This is also the major reason why we are witnessing the high level of deforestation on our hills and mountains in the peninsular and other places around the city which is leading to soil erosion and precipitate mudslides and flooding. The fact is that no form of drainage system or can handle or control these disasters in a situation where these activities are carried out. In fact, most newly established communities and some old ones are constructed on the hills and along sea coast areas of Freetown both of which leaves the city with high vulnerability level.

This is because those migrating into the city will always have to find somewhere to lay their heads and any opportunity of such they lay their hands upon is quickly grabbed. That is why we are therefore seeing a lot of people unlawfully grabbing and claiming lands, acquiring them and building houses in areas (mountains, hill tops, shores, swamps, waterways etc.) which are not advisable to build in, especially looking at the topography of Freetown, thus a huge consequence of such hazards or eminent disasters.

I know that we can’t stop hazards form happening but we can prevent them from becoming a disaster because disasters only occur when there is a high level of vulnerability and or when hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and leading to a level of human, material, economic and environmental loses and impacts.

One major example is the August 14, 2017 mudslide and flooding that occurred after three days of torrential rainfall in Freetown at the Matormeh and Kaningo communities respectively which claimed the lives of thousands of Sierra Leoneans and destroyed immeasurable amount of properties. This disasters could have been avoided if only these areas where are not where not reluctantly converted into settlements. Unfortunately, people seem to have no option than to squeezing themselves into any tiny hole they find just to keep them in the city or give them advantage of making it in the city.

What I think we should about as a nation and government should give premium to is, how to decentralize opportunities, facilities and development into other parts of the country and develop and implement measures that can reduce the population in Freetown.

Government can also solve this issue of centralization by creating a new urban district maybe at Lungi or Mamamah. The Lungi Bridge can be constructed and most government offices and institutions transferred to that end. We’ve seen such necessary steps been taken by other nations, Nigeria for instance moved the capital from Lagos to Abuja.

Let’s not lie to ourselves; we can never solve these issues of disaster if the issue of centralization is not addressed by making decentralization an important part of our development as a nation. This I believe is the only solution to mitigate disaster in Freetown.