By Brima Sannoh
In recent times, our beloved nation has been amongst other countries globally that have faced calamities claiming lives and destroying properties leaving in their wake sorrows but at the same time serving as eye openers. We have been battling for over a year now with the ravages of an unprecedented Ebola virus which has derailed most of the country’s development programmes.
Just at a time when we are about to succeed in eliminating the deadly killer-virus, another calamity, flooding, hit different parts in the country including Pujehun district ,Gerihun in Small Bo and the Western area. The floods that affected most of the slum communities and high lands in Freetown have so far been considered as the worst that the country has so far experienced leaving in its track deaths and thousands of displaced people, who virtually lost all their properties. These our unfortunate brothers and sisters are now sheltering mainly at the National Stadium in the West End and Attouga Stadium in the East End of Freetown, sleeping out in the cold.
One thing which has sunk down well with many Sierra Leoneans and most of our development partners is the swift reaction taken by the Government in trying to mitigate to sufferings of the displaced persons and find solace for them. In his usual posture and determined stance, His Excellency, the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma immediately convened an emergency meeting with all the relevant stakeholders in the evening when the natural disaster was quelling down, to chart a way forward to deal with the alarming situation at hand. Of course, various resolutions were mapped out, key amongst which was that all the affected persons must go to the National Stadium, Attouga Stadium and an open field down the road leading to the Ferry Terminal at the East End of Freetown.
As always, the pro-active Minister of Social Welfare, Children and Gender Affairs, Moijue Kai Kai,who was spotted in active operation when the impact of the flooding was intense, during the early afternoon hours, was again after the meeting with the President, making all the frantic moves to ensure that the affected persons were safely accommodated in the outlined places. With his team, he ensured that all the interventions of other humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross which was searching for the dead and at the same time giving humanitarian support, was well coordinated.
I will also like to hugely commend both the military and police for their display of professionalism in conveying affected persons, especially the vulnerable (women, children and the elderly) to the stadiums as well as in providing security.
Up to this moment of going to Press the humanitarian assistances that have been pouring in from various individuals and organizations in terms of food and non-food items to the victims are helping greatly in mitigating their sufferings. This show of empathy and benevolence has been so moving reinforcing the need to be each other’s keeper in times of distress.
As all of these are ongoing, there has been growing and heated debates in various quarters relating to whether it is the Government who should be blamed or the affected persons for the unfortunate natural disaster that erupted claiming some precious lives and displaced many. Those blaming Government are saying that people who were and are living in high risk communities should have been relocated to other safer place(s) either out of their own volition or forcefully especially when the handwriting was clearly seen on the wall that there was a looming and an imminent eruption of disaster. They are saying Government failed in doing so!
On the other hand, others are arguing that the affected persons were very stubborn to move even though they have been forewarned on several occasions that they were sitting on a time bomb which could explode at anytime in the rainy season furthering that the people should have known in the first place that those areas were not ideal or suitable for human habitation. But again they conclude that the people had no alternative place provided for them where they could relocate!
I will not like to go into the merits and demerits of the positions of both schools of thought but rather want to categorically state here that various Governments, including the present Ernest Bai Koroma led APC Government, made frantic moves to persuade residents in those communities to see reason why they should relocate to safer areas but all fell on deaf ears. Various environmental organizations also added their voices, calling for people to relocate but that also yielded no fruit. But what we witnessed of late, in terms of a pro-active measure implemented to move people residing in environmental degraded areas, was the demolition of structures at the Aberdeen Creek.
The thrust of the argument, however, is where the people should have relocated when they don’t have the means? This aspect, if looked at from face value will appear to be tenable but when proper consideration is given to the thought that these residents, especially the slum dwellers, were very reluctant to move even when various Non-Governmental organizations approached them ,offering them alternatives and other attractive packages they still refused to do so then the argument becomes more complex. Using brute force to move them out could have been tantamount to human rights violation opening a path for certain so-called Civil Society Organizations to blacklist the Government(s). It will interest some to know that some of the slum dwellers and residents on mountaintops were former displaced persons from the provinces during our civil war, who were repatriated after the war to their different localities, given start-up packages, but went and came back , maybe lured by the trappings of city life.
There is more than meets the eye! The heart of the matter is that the coastal areas especially are places where a lot of shady deals do take place, paramount which is smuggling, which is why no amount of persuasion will make those who are benefiting willing to leave.
That apart, there is this feeling among certain people that it is only when a person resides in the city that he or she is considered civilized when the truth of the matter is that there is bliss and prospects in the countryside.
At this material time, we have seen the repercussions of living in danger zones spelt out by the recent Western area flooding. The Government is now doing all that it could to give the victims succor and also mapping out strategies as to how to conveniently relocate these people. As a caring Government and President Koroma being an embodiment of love and compassion efforts are made to see that our unfortunate brothers and sisters are given safe havens.
This recent unfortunate incident should serve as an eye opener: for the Government the stick and carrot approach does not seem to be working and therefore the bull should be taken by the horn by ensuring that all those living in danger zones should in one way or the other move. No political sentiment must becloud such a stance. For individuals, it shows that our safety should always come first above anything else.
The blame game, in our estimation, is not contextual but rather the way forward!