Sierra Leone Mudslide: How Africa Can Prevent Natural Disasters

In a Continent plagued by poverty and under-development, natural disasters are often unheard of in Africa. Ironically, these traits are the very reasons Africa should take steps to prevent further mishaps from occurring.

The devastating mudslides in and around Freetown, Sierra Leone on the 14th of August 2017 is an urgent warning to Africa as a whole to plan better. As much as deadly floods and mudslides are triggered naturally, human activities can contribute or curtail substantially the extent of impact of such natural disasters. Joseph Rahall, executive director of Green Scenery, a non governmental organization working in Sierra Leone to promote and enhance environment and human security, stated to DW that the mudslides were ‘a man-made disaster’. How so? and how does Africa prevent such disasters?

Provision of Adequate Infrastructure: A major cause of the mudslides was the lack of adequate housing for poor rural communities found on Sugar Loaf Mountain. Jamie Hitchen of the Africa Research Institute stated that the government was not inclined to provide housing for poor communities and noted that attention to unregulated construction is only received after a crisis. Usually the government of a country should provide housing at a reasonable cost to poor communities but where funds are scarce, they must specify residential areas in their city plan to prevent unregulated and unlawful housing. This zoning should be well monitored by government agencies and where encroachment occurs, adequate warning should be given to offenders. Though, this is a difficult feat in over-populated areas, such as Freetown, proper planning and monitoring of housing development could deter such natural disasters.

Improve Satellite Data and Geographic Information Systems: Science and technology play an important role in managing natural disasters. In the present case, Sierra Leone’s meteorological department did not issue a warning ahead of the torrential rains, which might have aided emergency evacuations from disaster zones. Deployment of information and communication technologies (ICTs), geographic information systems, drone mapping and remote sensing & satellite data help government detect and warn people of potential disasters very early on. This encourages government to be more proactive rather than reactive as seen here, where the UN is now using satellite data, radar imagery and drone mapping to assess which areas may be at risk of a second mudslide.

Encouraging Forestation, Afforestation and Reforestation: This is especially for buildings on a steep hill or at its base. Uprooting a tree affects the structure of the soil, loosening it and causing it to give way easily during heavy rainfall. In searching for settlement, rural communities look for undeveloped land where they would not easily be disturbed by the government or private citizens claiming ownership. However, they fail to realise the dangers of deforestation and sometimes are aware but refuse to move due to scarce land or funds. Here, the government may place a boundary where construction must not exceed and proceed to strengthen the area against flood and other disasters. Where this can not be done, it is advisable they provide alternative accommodation and demolish such areas.


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