Thousands of families already live in desperate conditions following the fire incident that broke out late on Wednesday 24 March in Freetown’s Susan’s Bay Community, according to a report by the Emergency Plan of Action (EPoA).
The overcrowded slum community in the Sierra Leonean capital is home to thousands of poor families, mostly fishermen and petty traders; the organization says a total of 7,093 people (including 1,208 children) from 1,597 households have been left homeless from the accident, the organization cites data from an interagency assessment released on 27 March by the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).
The fire accident also left 409 people injured (207 men, 181 women and 21 children), by the heaps of burnt rubble that used to be their houses. Some children are feared to be injured or separated from their families due to the disaster. EPoA notes that many children have not been able to go to school as a result of the loss of their school properties in the crisis. At the moment, thousands of families in Susan’s Bay already live in desperate conditions as they lost everything they had, including their makeshift shelters, their clothes, the food they had in stock, money and other valuable properties are all gone, it says.
According to the report seen by the Gleaner Newspaper, at least 88.7% of the affected community had their household items damaged, while 78.8% had their house structure destroyed. Immediate needs have been identified to include emergency shelter (plans to be addressed by other partners) and household items (blankets, mattresses, clothing, hygiene and cooking items). The National Disaster Management Agency, together with other partners, has committed to providing some of the materials for the families to rebuild more houses that are permanent safely and properly. The deadline for this reconstruction of shelters for the affected households is yet to be done as Government is still lobbying with its partners for resources to implement it.
On Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), the findings from the assessment indicate that the fire incident destroyed livelihoods, including cash, petty trade items in their houses, and it occasioned a situation of limited and impure water sources, consequently increasing the risk of water-borne diseases, with the worst affected being mothers, elderly, persons with disabilities and malnourished women and children. Given the extent of the damage, which accounts for over 70% of the infrastructure area, the affected communities are now in dire need of support to clean up the rubbles and provide adequate WASH services to the community to avoid any waterborne and hygiene-related diseases outbreaks.
On Healthcare, in light of the global Covid-19 pandemic context, there is a great risk for the virus to spread, which would be a double disaster for the affected community. Also, due to the congested nature of the location, lack of water and sanitation facilities make it a perfect breeding ground for potential epidemics, as the people might be tempted to resort to unsafe water for consumption. There is an urgent need to enhance these families’ water storage capacity at the household level and conduct health and hygiene promotion.
The Situation analysis also highlights that the affected community could be exposed to armed robbery, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), among other criminal activities, which could affect this operation in several ways.
Fear over the upcoming rainy season and potential flooding, The Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) has stated that the rainy season, which typically begins in April, intensifies in May/June, and could lead to flooding. The affected people, who are mainly homeless for the moment, will be exposed to the elements and potentially flee completely from the area, making it hard to find them for support. Also, a potential flood could worsen the situation for already affected persons or create new needs among those not severely affected by the fire incident. The floods might also make the targeted areas inaccessible.