October 2, 2015 By Alusine Sesay
Seated among several youths in the Kroo Bay community, Charles Carew remarked, “We were born and bred here and we have nowhere to go.” Charles is the Youth Chairman of the Kroo Bay Community. He has spent over 38 to 40 years in the community. He was born and bred in the community.
He is quite comfortable living in that community despite all the odds. For him, relocating to an alternative settlement is not the alternative, at least in the near future. “Some of us would not be comfortable relocating to any settlement other than here,” Charles stated. “Government should remove the slum from the people instead of removing the people from the slum.”
Kroo Bay is one of the slum communities that were heavily hit by flood on 16 September this year. In the mayhem that ensued, two children and an adult lost their lives in the community. Many houses were swept away, coupled with the destruction of millions of Leones worth of properties. Despite the seeming gloom and doom, majority of residents are not willing to relocate to safer locations.
After the flood displaced thousands of people from slums and disaster prone communities across Freetown, the government provided temporary settlements for victims. Currently, the National Stadium and the Brima Attouga Mini Stadium are congested with affected victims.
But Charles says those who took shelter at the stadiums in the west and east of the capital are not original slum dwellers.
“Those people currently residing at the stadium are those that were displaced during the 11 years rebel war. For us that were born and bred here we love the community and would not go anywhere,” he argues.
He says Kroo Bay is a ‘city’ from where they can easily access recreational and health facilities without paying transport fares. He contends that life would be difficult for thousands of slum residents should they be relocated outside Freetown.
“Some of us are already established and doing business here and it would be difficult for us to be paying transportation on a daily basis to come and do business in Freetown,” says Carew, further justifying why they should stay put in the slum despite official and public consensus that they should move to a safer location.
Carew acknowledges the flooding overwhelmed them and urges the government to do something to prevent future occurrences.
Although hard hit by the flood, life in the community appears to be normal for residents. Everybody was busy carrying out different activities, with children playing in absolute innocence. By the look of things, government would face very stiff resistance if they decide to relocate people from the community.
Majority of the slum dwellers in the Kroo Bay community are engaged in various commercial activities that they cannot easily abandon.
According to Chairman of the Disaster Management Committee in the Kroo Bay community, Saidu Turay, some residents are agents of recycled materials like bottles, plastic bags, adding that they earn millions of Leones from such enterprises. Also, he said some people are fishermen, scrap metal dealers, wood sellers, while others do business on the high seas.
“We do sensitise and raise awareness among residents on the dangers of natural disaster. We encourage people to be reporting any hazard that has the potential to result into a big disaster,” he said, as he revealed some of the activities of the organisation.
Having spent over 20 years in the Kroo Bay community, Turay stated that the 16 September flood was the worst ever in the history of the slum. He blamed the incident though on human activities.
“Years back, there was nothing like flooding in this community. Although the flooding was a natural disaster, but human activities, including deforestation, among others, could have triggered it,” he said.
He also mentioned massive urbanisation as one of the reasons, stating that people who migrated from the provinces to the capital prefer to settle in slum communities where they can afford cheap housing.
“The community’s population has overflowed to the point of explosion. People reclaimed the land and forced the sea beyond its limit for settlement,” he said.
On the planned relocation, he said slum dwellers have previously been unwilling to be relocated because government failed to put in place the necessary mechanisms to actualise their relocation.
“But they are now more than willing to be relocated and government should assure them that nothing is lost. Government should provide all facilities that would encourage people to be relocated,” he maintained. “Relocation from Kroo Bay is sure and necessary and our responsibility is to prepare the minds of people to accept the reality.”
The Freetown City Council is currently undertaking the registration of households in the community to determine the number of households government would cater for, ahead of the planned relocation of residents.
Meanwhile, government says it has earmarked 206 acres of land at Mile Six, along the Freetown-Masiaka highway, to relocate the flood victims and others residing in disaster prone communities.
However, the question is when would this project be actualised? A relocation committee has been set up by the government to oversee and implement the project, but many are skeptical as to when and whether slum residents would be moved to safer locations.
But the bizarre thing is that the institution responsible for disaster control and management, the Disaster Management Department at the Office of the National Security (ONS), is being sidelined in the process. This was clearly visible in the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease when government set up ad hoc bodies to handle the epidemic, bypassing the ONS.
As the youth chairman rightly said, it is the responsibility of the government to transform slums into better human settlements. Should they opt to relocate the residents, which is very important, it would be prudent for the government to put in place all necessary mechanisms in order to avoid future chaos.