The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Friday, 08 December 2017 00:00

Freetown’s landslide and flooding disaster was 90 percent man-made

Rescue teams and soldiers operate near a mudslide site and damaged building near Freetown on August 15, 2017. Rescue teams and soldiers operate near a mudslide site and damaged building near Freetown on August 15, 2017.. Credits: Al Jazeera

Preventable human causes are being blamed for the landslides and flooding that hit Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, in August 2017, killing around 500 people and destroying dozens of homes.

The side of Mount Sugar Loaf in the Regent District of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, collapsed in the early hours of Monday, 14 August 2017, after a night of heavy rainfall. It was not the first time that Sierra Leone witnessed such a destuctive event. With annual rainfall of 3,600 litres, natural disasters have plagued the country for years.

But this time, preventable human causes are being blamed. The mudslide that devastated Regent district was the result of heavy rainfall, urban sprawl and soil erosion due to deforestation.

"This disaster was 90 percent man-made. There were trees along 80 percent of the river and hardly anybody lived there. Thirty years ago, no one would have been killed," says Thorsten Kallnischkies, a geologist seconded to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Sierra Leone.

"The only way to avoid this in future is through raising awareness among the communities - how to build and where to build," he says. "Administration and government must enforce laws to avoid future fatalities."

Sierra Leone's Office of National Security (ONS) has been working closely with national and international stakeholders, says John Rogers, ONS director of disaster risk management. These include global experts trying to recover losses and withstand future hazards.

In the meantime, government is focusing on restoring water supply; rebuilding bridges; fixing schools, housing; social protection and developing capacity management and early warning systems before next year's rainy season.

Teams of volunteers are cleaning drainage systems, constructing gabions and terraces to protect banks from erosion, and cultivating agriculture through recycling and composting to reduce the erosion of slopes.

"It's about sensitising communities to risk and enabling them to develop better methods to live," says Kallnischkies. "Landslides will always occur as long as there are hills and rainy seasons."

Nonetheless, he warns, unless change takes place at every level, the benefits of development are vulnerable and could be reversed. "It will happen again, if politicians and administration allow unplanned settlements and deforestation. Victims who lost their families and houses are already rebuilding their houses - in the same places. It's like having a picnic on a motorway."

Source: Lilah Gaafar/Al Jazeera

Read 951 times Last modified on Friday, 08 December 2017 12:27

The News Center is being funded by our Annual Corporate Sponsors " (learn more):