Disaster response helps build community resilience against perennial floods


SANTIGIE KAMARA’S HOUSE COLLAPSED DURING THE FLOODS BUT NOW THAT A WALL HAS BEEN BUILT HE AND HIS FAMILY ARE FREE FROM SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (UNDP/A.K.BAH)

Sierra Leone’s geographical location, land characteristics, large number of rivers, monsoon climate make the country increasingly susceptible to the impact of climate change and natural disasters and other challenges such as floods, wind storms, landslides, mudslides, wildfires and coastal erosion. Freetown’s mountainous backdrop and long rainy season makes low-lying coastal areas particularly prone to frequent and severe floods, landslides and mudslides. Residents of Moyuba, a slum community in the eastern part of Freetown, are perennial victims of such disasters during the rainy seasons in one of the world’s wettest capital cities. 

Resident Santigie Kamara, a father of 20 and victim of floods said “It was the first floods that resulted in my house collapsing - we lost beds and other furniture, pots, food…everything was destroyed. So when it rained, we were scared to go to sleep at night for fear of being swept away by the floods. I had to take all my four little boys to Waterloo, a town outside of the city, for the duration of the rains. The floods are so powerful and fast, they can destroy your entire life” adding “Now it is far better…the wall that has been built is very strong and we are now finally free from sleepless nights.”

Highlights

  • With the project's support, the ONS, local governments, the Sierra Leone Police and 40 out of 149 chiefdoms have integrated disaster risk reduction concerns into their development plans and established Disaster Management Committees to encourage proactive risk reduction strategies at the community-level
  • A nationwide disaster risk assessment was conducted and the highest risk communities identified were supported to develop their own disaster risk preparedness plans involving the establishment of a Volunteer Corps
  • 265 community volunteers were trained in effective disaster response to reduce community vulnerability

UNDP supports the Disaster Management Directorate, Office of National Security (ONS), the national body responsible for disaster prevention and management, through the Preventive Development project to prepare and respond to disasters more effectively across Sierra Leone. With UNDP’s support, the ONS is now engaged in Disaster Risk Reduction and emergency preparedness activities, and is working to strengthen the country’s capacity to reduce the risks posed by disasters, build resilience and minimize the population’s vulnerability, both at national and community level.

The project also supports the Government of Sierra Leone to build strong institutional frameworks, both legal and legislative, for coordination and leadership as well as technical capacity for disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness and response. 

The project has also improved the capacity of other key national institutions involved in disaster risk reduction and response, including the Meteorology and Hydrology Department, the Physical Planning and Land Use Department and Fire Service and Rescue Operations.

National stakeholders including the ONS, local governments, the Sierra Leone Police and 40 out of 149 chiefdoms have integrated disaster risk reduction concerns into their development plans and established Disaster Management Committees to encourage proactive risk reduction strategies at the community-level. A nationwide disaster risk assessment was conducted and areas at risk were identified. The highest risk communities have been supported to develop their own disaster risk preparedness plans involving the establishment of a Volunteer Corps, and 265 community volunteers were trained in effective disaster response to reduce community vulnerability. In addition, the ONS, in collaboration with other agencies, set up provincial and district security committees to prepare for, mitigate and respond to disasters.

In partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNDP also supported the Meteorological Department to re-establish basic infrastructure and maintenance procedures for both real-time weather forecasting and climate applications to reduce exposure of the population to weather and climate hazards and provide farmers with accurate data to enhance their agricultural productivity. Following an assessment, the Government of Sierra Leone installed six automatic weather stations in different parts of the country in January 2012. The automatic weather stations have contributed to the country’s greater understanding of changing weather patterns and provided the Government and its institutions the data to assess trends and determine necessary actions for effective climate change preparedness.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, Mr. Sahr Kpulun, said: “We are delighted that the weather station installation occurred out of the cooperation between UNDP, the UK Meteorological Office and the Government of Sierra Leone coming together to achieve such an important result…the equipment has helped Sierra Leone in diverse ways including the agricultural and transport sectors but most importantly in providing vital information to mitigate natural disasters in the country.”

Despite willingness from the Government and efforts from development partners including UNDP, disaster preparedness and response capacity still requires significant additional support to allow for optimal prevention, preparedness and mitigation locally and nationally. Continued support for the Government to implement the National Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan will be critical to ensuring that communities protect their well-being prevent avoidable destruction, and UNDP’s preventive development work will continue to support the Government and communities in these pursuits.