The people of Sierra Leone awoke on Monday, August 14 to a terrible disaster in Freetown, where mudslides claimed over 300 lives and destroyed properties worth millions of dollars.
Sierra Leonean Vice President Victor Foh presumes that the death toll may go higher than 300.
The mudslide, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), came amid heavy downpour of rain that began in the early morning hours when most people were asleep.
It occurred near the Sugar Loaf Mountain west of Freetown, where people have built houses both below and on the side of that mountain.
Building on the side of a mountain, depending on the way it is done, poses an environmental threat to the very residents as it is now the case with Freetownians. No one could have been told that such human activities near a steep mountain like the Sugar Loaf are dangerous.
As people dig to find space for building, so are the chances of erosion, sparked by the soil hanging. When rain soaks the hanging soil, it is possible that it will slide at any time, as it did.
According to BBC Freetown Correspondent, Umaru Fofana, authorities of Environmental Protection in Sierra Leone have consistently warned builders not to build residential structures near or on the mountain side; yet people have refused to abide by the Agency’s warnings and advice. Fofana even disclosed that a senior government official who did not abide by the Environmental Protection Agency’s advice is a victim of the disaster.
The Daily Observer joins the Mano River Union (MRU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Government of Liberia and the rest of the world in expressing profound condolences to the government and people of Sierra Leone for this horrendous loss of lives and properties.
The environmental disaster facing Sierra Leone must teach Liberians a lesson to take precautions against a similar situation. Like Sierra Leone, Liberia experiences heavy rainfall, especially along the coast, and residents in Monrovia encounter floods almost every year.
While we do not have a mountain in Monrovia as compared to Freetown, there are some activities Liberians carry out here that could result into the same flood disaster and mudslide that has afflicted Freetown.
For example, people are deliberately building in the mangrove swamps all around Monrovia without fear of what nature may bring and with total disregard for environmental laws.
Residents of Monrovia are in the constant habit of dumping water plastic and other kinds of trash in drainages meant to allow free flow of water and sewage. Sand mining at the beaches and in rivers is still dangerously rampant, despite measures pronounced by the Ministry of Lands & Mines to halt such activity.
Results of such activities manifested in Monrovia some years ago. A flood disaster hit the capital and its environs in 2014, leaving thousands of people homeless in the Sinkor, Bushrod Island and the ELWA belt. Public Works Minister Gyude Moore, in an interview with the Daily Observer, admitted that floods in Clara Town and Vai Town were due to structures built on watery and swampy slopes, and dumping dirt in drainages. He also mentioned that building in swampy areas was another cause of flooding in Monrovia.
It may also be recalled that in 2011, sea erosion damaged homes from the 19th Street beach to 24th Street in Sinkor. This, too, was the result of constant sand mining by residents of those areas coupled with building structures close to the ocean.
The disaster in Sierra Leone is similar to, or has greater effect than the one that occurred on October 6, 1982 in No Way Camp, Mano River in Grand Cape Mount County.
People are currently using shovels and diggers to dig into the mud in Freetown to find survivors or victims.
The BBC reported that government is unprepared to intervene promptly, as evidenced by the absence of excavators and other emergency equipment.
The time has come for Liberians to learn from Sierra Leone, and for the government to institute and enforce strong environmental policies to curb such activities which pose dangerous environmental threats that could lead to tragic consequences.