500 Homes Could Have Saved 500 Lives

On the 14th of August 2017, torrential rainfall caused massive flooding and a devastating mudslide, which left at least 500 confirmed deaths while the search continues for hundreds of missing bodies. This unforgettable occurrence has so far attracted attention from all around the globe. At home in Sierra Leone, I have [both] read and heard messages from mostly religious and political perspectives. As a religious nation by practice, though not mandatory by constitution, many views have been wholly spiritual ignoring sensitive scientific viewpoints which are equally worth mentioning. We are allowing rational processes to be thwarted by religious standpoints thus interfering with empirical reality. To hear people continuously saying "we are cursed", that "the wrath of God is upon us as a nation" further endorses the flimsy excuses politicians will make during such incidents, forgetting their responsibilities. The question I normally ask is why should God invoke one disaster from another on us? Are we the most cursed nation? I don't buy much of that. We are failing to ask some critical and sensitive questions to some of the problems we are facing as a nation.
Sierra Leone was rated as one of the nations that are particularly prone to natural disaster by the World Risk Index in 2016. This meant that Sierra Leone could be experiencing disasters such as flooding,massive erosion, mud/land slides at a more frequent rate with climate change becoming a serious global concern. For the past two years, we have experienced many torrential downpours which always result in flooding. Enacting strict measures is one fundamental way to tackle the foreseen circumstances that we have made ourselves vulnerable to. These disasters are not far-fetched from man's actions and inactions but what is baffling is how any responsible government could allow its subjects to encroach upon a Greenbelt area when we have already been told of our vulnerability to disasters.

We cannot continue to live with resilience for preventable crises, for how long are we going to continue making headlines for macabre diseases and disasters internationally? That unworthy recognition is what young people must frown at and detest strongly. The humanitarian donations in response to the crises are welcome, but can never bring back those lost lives. In a highly centralised polity, urbanization pushes an eager population to seek the centralised metropolitan area [in search] for greener pastures. But with a congested, hilly and poorly planned city, people risk dwelling in red zones like hilltops, beneath rocks,at shores and bays or hillsides.

By having a government Minister put up a structure in that same area (the said structure being one of the houses and properties destroyed by the mudslide) is just a clear manifestation of how corrupt and lawless our leadership is! The Laissez-faire attitude of state operators has cost us thousands of innocent and poor lives. Our lives and security is the responsibility of the government and state to protect. But if a government has on repeated occasions failed to live up to that, costing us thousands of innocent lives, then that government is inefficient.
Successive governments have shown their inability to implement strict measures that discourage people from advancing to these deadly zones. With no provisions for a proper housing system [to cater] for the lower and middle classes of society, the State tends to give a blind eye to illegal encroachments by people. They know that pushing for demolition will render hundreds, if not thousands, homeless and will consequently also reflect on the ballot box. Affordable low cost housing in a flatland like Waterloo in the outskirts of Freetown could have prevented the nearly 500 hundred graves full of corpses and amputated parts that we have today. Government officials will start capitalizing on the spiritual viewpoint of the masses to join the queue in wholeheartedly blaming God and nature, [conveniently] detaching themselves entirely when it is "they" (and not God) who should have implemented and enforced measures to get people out of those places.

Low cost housing schemes for the "have-nots" would be an unprecedented project for any government in this nation. That could prevent Waterloo from becoming the mass grave site we are turning it into. We are frustrated our previous experience where the public funds for Ebola were misappropriated. The citizens have strongly engaged on social media to take note of every single dime and donation made so far (in response to the mudslide catastrophe) for proper auditing, in order to avoid what happened to the Ebola funds - a clear depiction of the serious lack of trust for government and state institutions.

With the flames of electioneering on the rise just before this unfortunate event, both major political parties are holding their National flag bearer Convention in mid September. The ruling All People's Congress and main opposition Sierra Leone People's Party have successively ruled Sierra Leone since independence with military coups making part of this history some 56 years ago. There are already concerns over how functional the government will be after its national conventions and as such, the proper utilisation of the millions of dollars already received as donations for flood and mudslide victims. With elections set to happen in seven months time,there are concerns about the diversion of funds meant for the flood and mudslide victims.

Author: Alie Hadi Tarawally
Freetown, Sierra Leone