In the early hours of Monday 14th August at around 7:15am, a massive mudslide took place from the crest of Mount Sugar Loaf, the tallest mountain in the Western Area of Sierra Leone, Freetown. The mudslide caused massive damage downwards burying houses and killing up to 400 people with several missing. The disaster was not only in one area of Mount Sugar Loaf, there were two other recorded less damaging mudslides.About 156 households were affected and approximately 600 still missing.
The Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers wish to express their sincere sympathies to the families of those who died or were injured or lost property in this terrible disaster. However, Council believes that the disaster could have been averted or mitigated. A full investigation into the incident is pending.
In the last Biennial Conference on Disaster Mangement in June 2016, SLIE issued a Communique to Government regarding this very issue. The theme of the Conference was “National Disaster Risk Management and Preparedness: An Engineering Perspective for Resilience”. Representatives of the Ghana Institution of Engineers, the Nigerian Society of Engineers, the Federation of African Engineering Organisations (FAEO) and various Sierra Leone based stakeholders, representatives of companies, civil society organisations and Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) also participated in the conference deliberations.
- Stating the case for National Disaster Risk Management and Preparedness-The Sierra Leone Overview and effects of the recent disasters.
- Changes in Climatic Conditions/Global warming.
- Human activities (Environmental Damage, Sand mining, Deforestation, Erosion).
- Regional Lessons learnt from Case studies.
- International aid organisations and their operations in disaster management and mitigation
There is urgent need for focused action within and across sectors by States at local, national, regional and global levels in the following four priority areas:
- Priority 1: Understanding disaster risk.
- Priority 2: Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk.
- Priority 3: Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience.
- Priority 4: Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Recommendations made by SLIE/PERC:
- A statutory agency should be created for disaster management. This will ensure effective coordination and management of disasters. This Agency should be adequately funded and it should ensure that in addition to other natural disasters, flood control is funded in long term strategic planning for disaster management.
- Climate change should constantly be considered in strategic planning, finance, program design, and project implementation across a wide range of sectors including health, education, energy, tourism, infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, etc.
- Government should establish an Emergency Operation Center (EOC) for prompt response to any emergency situation.
- A National Communications Centre for the interception and dissemination of early warning information concerning hazards should be created.
- Municipal planning should involve the development of master plans, structure plans, area and local plans. Such plans should allow for the creation of more resilient cities that mitigate key risks.
- Legislation and regulations relating to deforestation, building construction, sand and aggregate mining and several other areas of human activities that could adversely affect the environment, exacerbating disasters should be strengthened and rigorously implemented. The role of these inimical man-made activities in enhancing natural disasters should be considerably reduced and government is urged to have greater resolve to address these problems.
- The use of sustainable solutions involving non-structural measures should be encouraged to tackle flood issues to reduce the vulnerability of human beings and property exposed to flood risk. Growing recognition is now being given to “soft” or “ecological engineering” options, in which attention is given to sound environmental management as a form of structural defense.
- Communication and sensitisation measures to educate the public on the dangers of destroying catchment areas, blocking-up natural drainage channels and many other unsavoury practices that will exacerbate disasters should be encouraged.
- Government should institute a programme to design and implement a central drainage system that is consistent with natural channels in Freetown and other urban areas.
- Government should actively encourage the involvement of SLIE as an Institution and more Engineers into many aspects of Disaster Risk Management. The ONS has made the gesture of inviting a representative of SLIE to be on its Disaster Management committee. This is welcome but must also be followed by Government’s active solicitation (with assistance from SLIE) to other MDAs involved in DRR to get more and varied engineers involved in their work. EPA/NSCC (Environmental Protection Agency/National Secretariat for Climate Change) should actively involve more and varied Engineers in their work. They should also move beyond merely using government employees and engage the services of more private sector Engineers