Date Published: 17 August 2017

Initial Humanitarian responses to the effects of a huge mudslide devastating parts of Freetown, Sierra Leone

After three days of exceptionally heavy rain, sweeping floods and a massive mudslide devastated a large area of Regent, a mountain town approx. 15 miles east of Sierra Leone's capital city, Freetown. This is reported to have occurred from about 3am on Monday 14th August. Major news organizations from around the world have shown footage of buildings, trees and possessions disappearing, overwhelmed by a thick 'river' of red/brown mud. Although flooding is an annual concern in this part of Sierra Leone, the scale of the damage and the extent of loss of life due to this particular incident is extreme.

An immediate response was provided by local groups, including government organizations and the Red Cross (Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, SLRCS).

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma made a national broadcast later in the day in which he declared a state of emergency, provided information about a hastily arranged relief centre in Regent and urged people to remain unified1. He also appealed to the international community for assistance. Aid agencies responded and donations were provided by governments around the world including those of the UK, Togo, Liberia, China and Israel. On 15th August President Koroma declared 7 days of national mourning in recognition of the many deaths resulting from the tragedy.

Oxfam International responded by providing clean water and hygiene kits to survivors and outlined plans to help almost 2,000 households. It expressed concern that continued heavy rains, overcrowding and inadequate water and sanitation systems could leave people vulnerable to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases.

Daniel Byrne, part of the Oxfam team that visited the worst affected areas, said2:

" We saw mass destruction – people were pulling bodies out with their bare hands. We didn't see any survivors from the homes that had been submerged. Neighbors have been taking in people who have lost their homes. We spoke to one person who has taken thirty people into their home which has just three rooms.
_ These are some of the poorest areas in Freetown. Water and sanitation in homes is at best very basic, but at worst non-existent. Overcrowding is a serious health risk and a potential breeding ground for the spread of disease."

Oxfam's Sierra Leone country director Thynn Thynn said2:

" The disaster has left thousands of extremely poor people without a home. The city experiences floods every year but not on this scale. Oxfam is working with its partners in Freetown to help survivors and prevent any outbreaks of diseases."

UNICEF also released a statement3 about its work responding to the needs of displaced families affected by the flooding and landslides. On the 17th August it referred to the flooding and mudslides has having killed several hundred people including at least 109 children, with the death-toll is expected to rise due to over 600 people remaining unaccounted for.

" The scale of the damage is unprecedented," said UNICEF Representative Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim.
" Children have been left homeless, vulnerable and terrified. We must do all we can to protect them from disease and exploitation."

Since the disaster happened UNICEF's teams have been responding to the needs of the many children and families affected, including by providing safe drinking water and sanitation and delivering supplies including medicines, tents and gloves. UNICEF is also offering psycho-social support to those traumatized by the events.

Many water sources have been contaminated. There has also been extensive damage to water supply networks. As an immediate response water storage tanks are being set-up to supply those displaced.

Sierra Leone's Office of National Security (ONS) has estimated that more than 3,000 people have lost their homes. Complete recovery is therefore expected to take some time.

Sources include:

  1. hindustantimes.com/world-news, 15/08/2017
  2. oxfam.org/en (OXFAM International), 15/08/2017
  3. unicef.org/media, 17/08/2017

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