Certain events in our lives are so momentous that we shall always remember where we were and what we did when those events occurred. Many of us will surely remember where we were in the early hours of 14 August 2017, when we received the news of the mudslide in Regent. It turned out to be one of the worst natural disaster in Africa in recent years, and there is no doubt that the impact on the individuals affected and on the community was both dramatic and profound. No-one who has seen the devastation caused on 14 August last year, the loss of life and the effect on survivors could avoid being touched by the situation.
I am sure we shall never forget the terrible events that unfolded early on that Monday morning, just as we must not forget those who perished in the disaster, or indeed survivors who may still be suffering from trauma and those, who have lost loved ones.
I would like to pay tribute to all those men and women, who went to the site from the early hours, and for several days, to help in the search and rescue efforts, who were out digging through the mud and debris in the hope of finding survivors. I pay tribute to all those who helped care for the survivors by bringing food, shelter and other critical supplies to meet basic needs, and indeed those who helped provide for those, who lost their lives.
I commend the national leadership ,from the highest levels down and for taking swift action, through the National Security Coordinator and the Office of National Security to bring all critical actors together to responded rapidly to a complex crisis. The disaster brought about, yet again, a clear demonstration of the ability of the international community to work closely together in partnership with the national authorities to support the Government-led response. I am very pleased to note that the UN family were also among the first responders.
The United Nations, as One, played its part both in the immediate response and in the recovery phase, supporting the Government in carrying out required damage, loss and risk assessments, and preparing recovery strategies, both for the immediate, medium, and for the longer term in disaster prevention and management, and urban and environmental planning.
According to the World Risk Report 2017, Sierra Leone ranks in the top 15 most vulnerable countries to disaster risk worldwide, and disasters, both natural and man-made, have destroyed or, at the very least, severely disrupted the achievement of Sierra Leone’s development objectives during the most recent decates. A catalyst for change, the mudslide disaster of August 2017 raised awareness about prevention and preparedness, as well as the critical need for longer-term environmental protection. It is our hope that all future investments in sustainable development will be risk-informed.
In partnership with the Office of National Security, the United Nations is engaged in disaster risk management in order to enhance resilience to natural and man-made disasters in the most vulnerable communities in Sierra Leone. UN support improves national and local capacities to anticipate, plan and mitigate the effects of disasters. 450 volunteers from affected communities were enlisted in cash-for-work resilience building activities, over 200 District Disaster Management Committees have been trained, and hazards have been mapped out in all 16 districts, with focus on improving the capacity of community volunteers as front-line responders.
We want to use this opportunity to call on all Sierra Leoneans to follow in the footsteps of the courageous, dedicated and resilient people of the affected communities.
Remediating the landslide area, part of the Freetown Emergency Recovery Project, is supported by the United Nations with funding from the World Bank. Established in August 2017 to support the government’s resilient recovery programme, it aims to rehabilitate and rebuild damaged infrastructure, and strengthening disaster risk management and early warning capacities.
The landslide remediation project entails technical studies, environmental, social and economic assessments needed to ensure that all environmental and social safeguards have been considered – identifying and removing rocks in precarious positions, re-profiling slopes through earthen removal or addition, rationalizing and formalizing river beds and re-planting trees. Also following support from the UN, many of these trees will carry fruits and nuts to benefit the surrounding community and reduce the likelihood of them being felled for firewood.
The global Sustainable Development Goals officially came into force on 1st January 2016, setting the wheels in motion to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. Disaster prevention is very much part of longer-term sustainable development. We are pleased, therefore, to see that disaster prevention, together with the environment, is the focus of one of the clusters being organized to implement the eight priorities determined by the Government, and urge the Government to hold the issue high on its agenda as an integral part of the national development planning, just as the SDGs should be firmly at the centre of national development.
The UN Country Team in Sierra Leone – with 15 resident UN agencies, funds and programmes, three non-resident agencies, and the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African Development Bank – will continue to build our work, together with our many partners in Sierra Leone to ensure that Disaster Risk Reduction remains a cross-cutting necessity in the country’s national development process, and new development agenda. We are also pleased to see that the Mayor of Freetown and the Freetown City Council are addressing the issue as an urgent priority.
Indeed, prevention and preparedness are best ensured in times when there is no crisis. Therefore the issue should not receive attention only during the rainy season, but should continue to be addressed with urgency even when the rains stop.
On this day, as Sierra Leone remembers the thousands of people affected by last year’s disaster, and the significant destruction and damage to critical infrastructure that occurred as a result of it, I am here to tell you that the UN family in Sierra Leone stands ready to lend whatever support possible to the development of policies and to their implementation for the short, medium and long term, working together to close the energy gap, enhance national prevention and recovery capacities, and promote lasting, nature-based solutions for a sustainable and even more resilient Sierra Leone, so that together we can ensure that no-one is left behind.