Cyril Barnes: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 August 2019:
Let me start by expressing my deepest condolence to families who have lost their loved ones in torrential rainfall since 2016. May their souls rest in eternal peace. The world has been such a beautiful place since creation. What has gone worng?
Since the beginning of time, the dust of the earth peacefully coexisted with the trees and oceans, as the gentle wind rocked the trees from side to side without falling; and the ocean without angrily overstepping its bounds. The rocks and trees held the soil in firm union to prevent landslide and floods. And then came the spoiler – man.
Since 2016, Sierra Leone has continued to experience heavy torrential downpours during the rainy season, causing mudslides and floods – leaving many dead. Yet, we have failed to go to the drawing board to find ways to stop these ugly occurrences.
Often times, members of religious and political institutions have been quick to blame the ripple effects of flooding as God’s will, whereas scientists are telling us that it is due to climate change. Given these conceptions, we ask ourselves – how did we get ourselves into this and who is to blame for the deaths of so many Sierra Leoneans?
There are obviously countless human factors responsible for the floods. While some argue that it can be mitigated, others believe it is a natural disaster, hence cannot be stopped. The factors responsible for the floods may range from governments (poor planning), weak application of the laws, community chiefs, land dealers to people’s activities.
The government, through its Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and Environment bears the brunt of the blame for poorly planning of Freetown and its environs. Over the past 25 years, we have seen successive governments failed to take bold steps to address the allocation of lands, planning of the city and removal of citizens from disaster prone areas. For both political and personal reasons, governments have failed to enforce laws preventing land grabbing.
Hills and reserved forest belts have been sold to politicians and affluent people without the keenest thought of human safety. There has been a complete disconnect between the ministry, community chiefs, land dealers/grabbers and enforcement of the law.
Areas that have been marked as disaster prone are still providing habitation for many Sierra Leoneans; and people are still constructing houses in forest belts that restrict habitation.
What is more insulting is that when those land enforcers, on whose faith the government solely rest, but who have slaughtered their sense of patriotism, come around to remove structures built by illicit land owners, they are easily dissuaded with bribes, thus allowing contractors to carry on with their construction.
The Saturday cleaning exercise initiated by President Bio and the flood mitigation initiative implemented by the Mayor of Freetown, helped in mitigating last year’s floods. However, they have not stopped the hills from oozing water this year, because actors have not considered other approaches to tackling the changing effects of deforestation and heavy rainfall.
These set of Sierra Leoneans are part of the problems we are facing today. Their quest to marry more women together with their insatiable desire to live ostentatious lifestyles that really do not exist, have clouded their sense of patriotism. Community chiefs have gone from selling forest reserved areas to selling access roads, sacred bushes, community fields and graveyards to satisfy their ill-desires.
In the Hamilton community, I was told that the community chief has sold the only graveyard they had for burial. One of the buyers even constructed an elevated night club in the cemetery with the intent of disturbing the dead.
Even when the dead have relinquished all earthly turmoil, the living will stay awake to rob them off their well-deserved eternal rest. Where does the chief expect himself or his relatives to be buried when they die?
Land dealers and grabbers
Land grabbing is an illicit act in Sierra Leone. But the weak application of the laws has resulted in people grabbing government lands for the purpose of selling. Imagine land dealers selling a piece of land to 10 people, leaving them to fight it out in order to determine ownership; imagine a man buying his own plot of land for the second time because the first transaction was illegal.
Sometimes, we blame successive governments unnecessarily when we should be blaming ourselves. We take for granted the weak implementation of the law, and go on to construct poorly built structures in disaster prone areas. And when natural disaster strikes, we blame the government.
Those who buy disaster prone lands, graveyards, reserved forest belts are always on the receiving end of one disaster or the other. People risk their safety to construct houses in waterways and quarries.
Some have even resorted to blocking drainage systems such as viaducts, stopping the water from entering the ocean. Along the peninsula, most of the large waterways have been narrowed by perimeter fencing and housing.
In the Kobba Farm Community, the Jui, community people have banked the river illegally for the purpose of constructing a dwelling. They used stones and mud to outstretch the land, pushing the Rokel River offshore. EPA Officers have been contacted on several occasions to put a stop to their illegal activity, but all efforts have proven futile.
In similar situation, there is a house currently under construction in the middle of river that separates Hamilton and Mambo communities.
We pay huge amount of money to buy lands and build houses with less consideration that we will pay even more with the lives of our loved ones, when flood strikes. We throw garbage down the drainage.
We are yet to see a strong government that is determined to prioritise people’s safety over votes. We are yet to see a government that is desperate to remove people from disaster prone areas and rehouse them in low-cost houses, like it used to be.
We are yet to see citizens who would reject buying lands and building houses in disaster prone areas.
Similarly, we are yet to see Sierra Leoneans stop throwing garbage down the drains. We are yet to see the Ministry of Lands take upon itself the responsibility to plan our environment well, and make it habitable for all Sierra Leoneans.
We are yet to see law enforcement agents and community chiefs stop taking bribes in land transactions.
Together we can make this nation great again. But it starts with both singular and collective responsibilities.