Heavy flooding does not hamper Ebola response efforts in Sierra Leone

تم النشر: 19 سبتمبر 2015 16:00 CET

By Lisa Pattison, IFRC

The gentle patter of rain falling on the tin roofs across Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, quickly turned into an orchestra of clashes and bangs as a torrential downpour lasted an entire day. Having no respite from the rain, the city’s drainage system became quickly overwhelmed, causing swirling brown waters to rise and flood the streets.

Most affected by the rising water levels were the inhabitants of the coastal slum and hillside areas such as Kroo Bay and Old Warf. The most vulnerable were relocated to the Siaka Stevens football stadium to receive medical attention and temporary shelter.

“I had prepared my children for school and asked them to wait a while for the rain to cease. In less than a minute our house became flooded so I moved my kids. No sooner had I rescued my daughter  from the already flooded house, my roof caved in and I lost everything. I swam with my kids to the Kroo Bay community centre to seek refuge, that was where I cut my finger as the wall collapsed. I am very happy that the Red Cross has treated me and my kids, who also suffered some bruises. I have lost everything but I thank God for my life and the life of my children,” says Almamamy Sesay, a resident of Kroo Bay.

However, this was not just a flood. With the prevailing threat of Ebola in crowded areas, 100 Red Cross volunteers were immediately deployed to the stadium to reinforce messages of ‘no touch’ and to call the central hotline if they, or someone they know, are demonstrating signs of Ebola.  Safeguarding sanitation, the Red Cross also installed an information kiosk at the entrance of the stadium to provide hand washing facilities and to conduct temperature checks to the more than 4,000 people now sheltering  in Siaka Stevens stadium.

“We have provided the coordination team with clothes and household kits to help prepare food for the people currently staying in the stadium. Our volunteers have also been on hand to provide first aid to people suffering from injuries like cuts and scrapes from trying to escape the flooding.  We are still reminding people about the danger of Ebola and getting them to wash their hands,” says Patrick Massaquoi, spokesperson for Sierra Leone Red Cross Society.

The main rainy season in Sierra Leone normally lasts from June to August , but September has seen continued heavy rainfall, especially on the 16th,  and it is expected to continue for another five days, bringing more challenges to the country still battling an Ebola outbreak, now for more than one year. It is not just Ebola that is of concern. With the flooding, communities are on alert for a potential cholera outbreak.

“The current flooding in Freetown and elsewhere in Sierra Leone is an indication of how vulnerable the country is to natural disasters. The local Red Cross has acted quickly and effectively to address the immediate needs of those affected by the flooding but, as in other disasters, it is the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, including those living in the slums and in poorly constructed houses, who have been disproportionally affected,” states John Fleming, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Emergency Health Coordinator. “Disaster risk reduction interventions are critical to averting similar tragedies.”

The Sierra Leone Red Cross Society is also providing immediate life-saving support to flood-affected families in 10 communities in Bo and Pujehan districts. The IFRC has released 88,050 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Funds to assist the local National Society in meeting the needs of 2,630 people for a period of three months. Activities are focusing on the provision of essential emergency relief items, shelter, health, and clean water and sanitation.