Freetown is one of the wettest cities in the world during the rainy season. River banks and drainages burst into floods, houses collapse and traffic halts in some parts of the city due to the heavy down pour of rains. Slum dwellers find life very difficult as sanitation and health care delivery are in shambles.
The only available space left in the city for the poorest of the poor is the slums situated on the edge of the city, overlooking the mighty Atlantic Ocean. This area is littered with piles of rubbish that are compressed to accommodate makeshift structures for people to reside and maintain existence within the city.
This press conducted a survey on the effects of the global crisis to the ordinary Sierra Leonean and observed that most of the people with low-income earnings are forced to cramp in the slums of Freetown with pigs, flies and swarms of mosquitoes that breed in pools of slimy green, dirty water.
The densely packed Susan’s bay, Kroobay and Mabela slums are similar with other slums around Freetown and its environs where shacks are built with corrugated iron sheets, tacked with plywood and cemented floors. Some are lucky enough to have beds on stilts while others lay on the bare floor.
The shelters flood with waste water, full of faeces with flies oozing on rubbish, while dead rats and dogs bob up on the surface as residents do their normal domestic work with ease – laundering and cooking, while their children and pigs play together in mounds of trash in sheer misery and vulnerability.
I recently trawled around Susan’s bay, a slum by the shoreline in Freetown. As I stepped off the stretched, sloppy, and steep concrete steps leading from the city through the Malama Thomas Street and Fisher Street, I was led through the slum floor. It felt like the ground was moving, soft, and squid-spongy; the land literally had no foundation and much of the space available is reclaimed land.
Residents mainly comprise of unemployed children and the aged dressed in rags gazed at me curiously, as the stench of roting garbage hung heavily in the air. I held my nose and dodged the waste water alleys along the drainages and narrow foot paths dotted with bricks and sand bags to avoid one landing on the stench mud.
According to my tour guide, Mohamed Kamara, the people are forced to live in this kind of squalor and misery because most of them came to the city during the heat of the war and could not go back to their respective communities because some of their villages and bungalows left behind were completely burnt down and no longer exist. Other localities have also been swallowed up by forests.
During my visit, there was heavy downpour of rain. Youths and children were seen busy collecting sand bags and rubbish at the seashore to enable them strengthen the banks of the sea and also stop the flow of waste sewage around their makeshift structures to avoid over flooding.
Residents are forced to contend with the vulnerable health hazards the slum poses to their lives – malaria, diarrhea, scabies, cholera and other respiratory infections are common sicknesses in the slums. A community health officer told me, “There is nothing we can do to improve health care delivery because the health care center lacks basic drugs, and other logistics to dispense Medicare.”
Most of the shacks lack a toilet facility and the available ones are public toilets with bore holes that close after 8:00 p.m. Some people normally use stools (chambers) and other containers to defecate during the night and empty it very early in the morning on drainages or a nearby dumping site. The offshore line at the edge of the coast is the most ideal place used by residents to defecate, and local fishermen also use it as bait to catch fish.
I interviewed a family head of six who burst in to tears in agony, misery and desperation due to the lack of food to eat. He can no longer afford to buy goods from the markets and sometimes relies on junk food (cookery) to sustain the family. He lamented that his family normally prepares a meal on weekends.
I met a family of four eating gari and pepper soup with flies oozing on the food as dogs and pigs roamed around for remnants while blotted, malnourished, and snotty naked children with fly-caked bellies hungrily stood with their pale faces dining the only meal for the day. The family head said, “We only eat what we get these days because of hunger and poverty; we are not even concerned about a balanced diet.”
I traveled the length and breadth of the country and realized that the current hunger and poverty that is prevailing in the slums and the hinterland is unacceptable for the dignity of people living in Sierra Leone, but it is indeed a rare sight on the ground.
The people are eagerly waiting for Government and its partners to create the enabling environment for a vibrant economic base and also build the capacity of the people so that they can improve their earning capacity and their livelihood
By Saidu Bah