July 19, 2017 By Joseph S. Margai
Voluntary caretakers of the Ebola cemetery at Paloko village, outskirt of Waterloo, Western Area Rural District, have told this medium that there has been massive encroachment on the lands of the sacred ground because of ‘negligence’ on the part of the Western Area Rural District Council (WARDC).
The Ebola cemetery was where government buried about 10,040 dead bodies from October, 2014 to February, 2016. Concern Worldwide was managing the cemetery and paying grave diggers, caretakers and a family liaison officer, who was assisting family members to identify tombs of their loved ones. But after the outbreak was contained, the cemetery was handed over to the Western Area Rural District Council in order to ensure its sustainability.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Alusine Samura, a volunteer at the cemetery, said the site was later opened to the public after the Ebola epidemic.
“We just formed a voluntary group of six members to take care of the cemetery. Our job here is to refill the mud that is washed away from the graves by the rain, brush the cemetery, help relatives to identify tombs of their relatives that died of the disease, dig graves for members of the public to bury their deceased family members, among others,” he explained. “We were not deployed here by anyone and no one pays us.”
He said they don’t have the authority to stop people from encroaching on the cemetery land and that the act was taking place unabated.
He revealed that because the cemetery is very close to the sea, some people were also engaged in illicit sand mining.
“Since the handing over of the Ebola cemetery by Concern Worldwide to WARDC, we have never received a cent from the council. They have totally neglected this monumental cemetery which is very important for current and future researchers,” he said.
However, Chief Administrator of WARDC, Ahmed Shekuba Koroma, confirmed that the cemetery was handed over to the council and that their major challenge was the cost involved in constructing a perimeter fence around it.
“We did a letter to State House in order to assist us in the fencing of the cemetery. There is a possibility to fence it but the stumbling block now is the ownership of the land, as people have been claiming ownership of the cemetery land,” he explained.
“Two set of families have shown up claiming that both of them have legal documents to the land and if we want to fence it, we should firstly clarify its legality.”
He however noted that plans were underway for WARDC authorities to engage the land owning families in order to have a breakthrough.
Responding to claims that WARDC has never given a dime to volunteers at the cemetery, Mr. Koroma stated that payment of stipend to volunteers was not budgeted for in the 2017 budget.