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Sierra Leone: Caritas aids, “the worst natural disaster in one of the world’s poorest countries”

Over one thousand victims including hundreds of children, 8000 displaced persons coupled by the risk of epidemics. It’s the tragic toll of the mudslides and heavy floods that the night of August 14 devastated Regent, a suburb of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Assistance by the Caritas network, in conjunction with other international organizations coordinated by the government, is already under way, an intervention plan and a fund collection campaign are due to be implemented soon

409 dead, including 109 children; 600 to 800 are still missing after the mudslide; 8.000 displaced persons; the tragic burial of the victims, humanitarian aids and the race against time to avert epidemics and an outbreak of cholera. The heavy rains continue pouring in, with the risk of further floods and devastating mudslides -as the one that the night of August 14 saw a hillside collapse in Regent, a suburb 15 miles away from the centre of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. A natural disaster of which man is once again co-responsible. In fact the area had been completely deforested with unauthorised building and construction abuse, lacking a land use plan, without roads nor drainage and sewer systems. In the recent past even the local bishops had denounced the environmental degradation of the territory. The tears shed by the President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma immediately after the tragedy and the desperate request for aids give an idea of what it means to address an emergency situation of such proportions in one of the world’s poorest Countries, relentlessly hit by disasters: the civil war was followed by a breakout of cholera epidemics, Ebola, and now the tragedy of massive mudslides. The government is reacting with dignity despite the scarce means available and the lack of infrastructures, seeking to coordinate international humanitarian aids, a large part of which have fortunately already been delivered.

Caritas, “ready to give our support.” “The Government has set up a coordination centre with frequent meetings with NGOs and UN agencies. It does it utmost, but major external help is needed”, Fabrizio Cavalletti, Director of the Africa Caritas office, closely monitoring the situation in constant contact with Caritas Sierra Leone, told SIR. “This week they will launch a program involving world Caritas envisaging a fund-collection, requesting food aid and sanitation kits, emergency housing facilities, psycho-social support and special care to the weakest brackets – children, senior citizens and people with disabilities. We are ready to help them”, he said. Caritas Great Britain (CAFOD), Ireland (Trocaire), The Netherlands (Cordaid) and USA (CRS) have been providing support in Freetown since the first instants of the disaster. “In coordination with the local Caritas they are giving assistance to displaced persons who are staying with relatives or are housed in safe shelters –Cavalletti added-. They also provide for the distribution of food, clothing, and sanitary kits, they help in carrying out the burials to avert the risk of epidemics.”

“Sierra Leone’s worst natural disaster”. “It’s among the worst natural disasters ever occurred in Sierra Leone”, said Edward John Bull, national Director of Caritas Sierra Leone who lost 9 family members in the landslide, including a 12-year-old who was due to join his aunt in the United States next September. “There are thousands of families who need everything: food, clothing, medicines, beds, water and sanitation, housing, along with psycho-social support”, he said. The director of Caritas Sierra Leone considers it important to share the personal stories of the victims of the mudslide, to make people understand that it’s not just a matter of numbers: “A couple was planning to get married next week. A family of seven had just returned to Sierra Leone from a mission with the United States and were looking forward to enjoy their new home. All their dreams were destroyed that night.” The Government has already celebrated State funerals for 300 victims and declared a week of national mourning. While for the international community it’s already become one of the many forgotten tragedies.

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