When torrential rains hit Sierra Leone last year small businesses like that of 42 year old Rugiatu Daniel were badly affected. The economic and social scars of those monsoon rains have still not healed for Rugiatu, who is the breadwinner of a family of six.
“I still haven’t fully recovered from the September 17 flooding,” she said. “I lost almost everything.”
Torrential rains have been a part of Sierra Leone´s climate for as long as anyone can remember, but due to high levels of deforestation, erosion, lack of waste management, and possibly the impacts of climate change they caused much more damage than in previous years. Slums flooded, people were forced to leave their homes and diseases followed in the footsteps of stagnant water.
Now, with the rainy season looming over Sierra Leone once again, there is a risk of history repeating itself. Waterloo Community Market Chair, Mrs. Yamah Samura warned that the pending rains pose distressing consequences if urgent and appropriate action is not taken by the authorities.
“I think we should expect worse than we faced last year,” she stressed.
The Waterloo market leader was speaking at a town hall meeting organized over the weekend, in which some 100 market women alongside top officials from the District Disaster Management Committee (Office of National Security (ONS), National Fire Force, Sierra Leone Drivers Union, civil society, paramount chiefs and the local council participated. The aim was finding ways of minimizing the impact of disasters such as floods in communities like Waterloo.
With the rains here already, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported Sierra Leone’s ONS/ Disaster Management Department, through the Western Area Rural District Disaster Management Committee to help Rugiatu and other market women minimize potential disasters in Waterloo through a simple but powerful tool – information sharing.
Rugiatu and other market women are active participants armed with mega phones and messages of how to prevent future floods in the market. She goes stall-by-stall to educate her peers in how to stop dumping garbage in the gutters and prevent illegal structures that can hinder the passage of water from being built. Together, she and her colleagues can make a big difference.
National Fire Force representative Sergeant Simpson said that the problem, as well as the solution, lies in the hands of the communities themselves – in this case the market women. He added
“Don’t be silent! Speak up! This is a simple way you can save your communities. Prevention is the key here.”
UNDP Disaster Risk Management Project Officer Margarete Dauda told the women that disaster does not discriminate, adding that communities can make their spaces resilient by working together to address perennial problems like flooding:
“We are working with the Disaster Management Department to roll out a nation-wide programme of preparing vulnerable communities to put in place preparedness measures aimed at minimizing the risk of disaster.”