The international development organization, VSO, is working with partners and community volunteers to reach the most affected groups as a result of the rapid flash floods that hit Freetown, Sierra Leone on 2nd August, almost 2 years since a huge mudslide triggered by similar levels of rainfall inundated communities causing the deaths of 1,141 people.
Cracks in the hills around Freetown have been identified in recent weeks – causing fears that another mudslide is looming. Freetown has been experiencing its heaviest rains on record this August and it is reported that more rain is expected in the coming days. At least seven people are already dead as a result of the floods.
VSO’s community volunteers have been on the ground in flood impacted communities since Friday, supporting evacuation and emergency support within communities. They have been visiting individuals together with our partners, the Office of National Security (ONS) and the Freetown City Council who are coordinating the emergency response, recovery and relocation efforts. The main aim is to ensure the most vulnerable families and communities receive immediate support and that precautionary measures are being taken to relocate residents from areas of risk of mudslides.
Sarah Henderson, VSO’s Regional Resilience Specialist Volunteer has been supporting the coordination of the response alongside ONS, said:
‘Our volunteers have been working in these communities since the floods have hit. Many houses have been destroyed. Sources of safe water, food supplies, clothes and blankets have been destroyed by dirty water flooding the houses. The women we have met are so worried about not being able to feed their children or keep them warm and dry as the rains continue to fall. Some are too scared to return to their homes as they fear the floods will return. As the response continues and our volunteers support communities to recover, we know that this may not be the worst for the communities we work in. August is the peak of the rainy season, and more heavy rains are inevitable, these communities and more like them, will face flooding again’.
There have been high levels of displacement due to homes being washed away in informal settlements. In addition to this, there has been high siltation of drainage canals due to construction, deforestation and plastic waste – increasing risk of flash flooding and pressure on fragile hills systems surrounding Freetown.
VSO have been working with the communities since the 2017 mudslide – mobilizing and training them in disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness with support from the Department of International Development (DFID) and the EU Aid Volunteers (EUAV) programme.
Kaday Mansaray, Director of Operations of VSO, said:
‘We are witnessing increased scale of flooding and climate related emergencies – impacting on the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. Our community volunteers – who are leading the way in providing immediate support within this response are the ones who have been engaging in activities such as reducing plastic waste, clearing drainage canals, and preparing their communities for floods. They have been working alongside our national and international volunteer team who have been relentlessly supporting flood affected communities since the floods hit.’
The need for emergency aid in Sierra Leone remains acute. More rains are predicted over the next few days and many people are still at risk and need to access safe drinking water, food, medicine and be relocated from high risk areas. VSO community volunteers will continue to support the community in days and months to come.
VSO is an international development organization which works through volunteers to tackle poverty.
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Regional Media and Communications Advisor (Africa Region)