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Fire in Freetown: Is Sierra Leone Cursed?

More than a thousand people were left homeless Thursday morning in Sierra Leone. The day before, a fire had decimated Susan's Bay, one of Freetown's largest slums.

A fire broke out on the night of Wednesday March 24, 2021 in Susan's Bay, eastern Freetown, leaving thousands homeless. According to a social media post by Freetown City Council President Yvonne Aki Sawyer, the blaze was impressive and thousands of families, including children, lost their homes. About 400 houses were destroyed.

“Many children are missing, separated from their parents in the chaos. Twelve children are in the Family Support Unit at the East Police Station. We believe that other children were able to board the boats moored on the quay, ”said the mayor.

An AFP journalist who visited the slum discovered "the smoking remains of a town where hundreds of people were looking for their personal belongings which had escaped the flames." A police officer told local media that there were no fatalities or serious injuries, although there were dozens of minor injuries.

The mayor demands more power

Freetown City Council tweeted shortly after firefighters intervened that the slum had been evacuated on time. “The extent of the damage is unknown, but thousands of people have likely been affected,” Sawyer said.

The mayor however took advantage of the media coverage Thursday morning to promote political demands. It considers that disaster risk reduction cannot be achieved without effective urban planning. "Local councils are in the best position to deal with the allocation of building permits," said Yvonne Aki Sawyer.

Susan's Bay is indeed considered one of the most anarchic slums in the capital, without access to drinking water and sanitation. The port community is often prone to natural disasters like floods, epidemics, cyclones, etc.

Wednesday's incident is the second major fire in the slums of Freetown in the past two years. In 2019, another fire hit the community of Kroo Bay and also left thousands of people homeless. In recent months, fires have occurred in other communities in Freetown and in different parts of the country.

The danger of slums in Sierra Leone

The former British colony rich in diamonds is one of the poorest countries in the world, some members of the Sierra Leonean government, including the First Lady, have been accused of embezzlement. A political scandal shakes the country.

The reality is, however, that the country's economy was ravaged by the civil war from 1991 to 2002, which left 120 dead, followed by an Ebola epidemic that took place from 000 to 2014. And between Falling global commodity prices and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Sierra Leone can no longer see the end of the tunnel.

European Union (EU) Ambassador to Sierra Leone Tom Vens said the EU was looking for ways to send aid to the victims. "We will also reflect with the authorities on the structural measures necessary to reduce the risk of such disasters recurring," he said Thursday on Twitter.

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