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In Sierra Leone, people fight against the sea to build a house

FREETOWN – Off a path in Cockle Bay, a slum in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, lies the squat, tin-roofed house where Lamrana Bah lives and works.

The widowed mother of six, who sells soft drinks from her porch, built the home from the ground up — or, more accurately, from the water.

Most homes here are built on land that has been ‘reclaimed’ from the sea.

In a process known here as banking, residents pile layers of tires, trash, and sacks of dirt into the water, stuff the ballast with mud, and then build homes on top.

It’s a unique solution to Freetown’s overcrowding problem, rooted in its geography and exacerbated during decades of civil war.

“Banking” showcases the ingenuity of a community using their own strength and meager savings to battle the sea to create their own space.

But their unauthorized homes also face dangers ranging from flooding to fires and struggle with lack of roads and basic services.

– ‘Local Technology’ –

Bah used to live in an ordinary apartment in the city, but after the death of her husband, she could no longer afford the rent.

Between 2014 and 2018, she spent $350 building her Cockle Bay home, which has electricity but no running water.

“My mum doesn’t pay rent anymore and we don’t have issues with anyone – we’re staying in our own house so I’m glad about that,” her son Prince Anthony told AFP reporters who visited the area late last year.

Like most of the buildings in the slum, it is one story and was originally constructed of corrugated iron. Bah later fortified it with cement walls.

The settlement has since expanded, leaving their house about 500 meters (yards) from the water.

According to the city, about a third of Freetown’s estimated 1.5 million residents live in slums.

The population grew during the 1991-2002 civil war, when hundreds of thousands fled violence in the provinces. By the time the fighting ended, many had made new lives and stayed.

But the city nestles on a peninsula between the Atlantic and the mountains, and informal expansion in either direction is dangerous.

In 2017, a landslide tore through a hilltop settlement, killing more than 1,000 people.

In the back streets of Cockle Bay, women sell nuts and donut-like ‘puff cake’ snacks, while men on wooden boats bring charcoal ashore to sell.

The slum houses community-run schools and at least one mosque – all on reclaimed land.

Not all residents are poor. In an older neighborhood, tall, solid houses painted pale yellow and green stand in the shade of linden, coconut, papaya and avocado trees.

“We live here happily (with) no problems — do you see the kids playing?” said Fatu Dumbuya, a 33-year-old hairstylist, who threaded a weave into a customer’s braids while her husband was hauling mud nearby for more land to accumulate

In the late afternoon sun, one of their children did homework while another ran around with neighbors.

Dumbuya, who used to live in the city with her in-laws, said she is happier now in her own home.

Banking, her client said proudly, “is a local technology.”

– Floods and fires –

The Federation of Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP), a community-based organization, estimates that around 198,000 people live in Freetown’s coastal communities.

“Our biggest challenges are flooding and fire accidents,” said Nancy Sesay, a lifelong resident of Susan’s Bay, a banked community near downtown.

Its shore is a heap of discarded clothes and plastic bottles.

Around 7,000 residents were left homeless after a fire in 2021. Another fire raged in the community in January.

“When it rains we don’t sleep — the garbage rises and floats with a very foul stench, and everyone will scream… ‘Wake up,'” Sesay said, walking along a putrid waterway where children were washing. Upstream, pigs poked at the trash.

The lack of access roads makes it difficult for ambulances or fire engines to arrive in emergencies.

But many residents don’t feel like leaving.

Sesay sells toiletries and cosmetics at the nearby Dove Cut market—a job she couldn’t do if she had to commute.

“Every year for the past five to seven years, we’ve had catastrophic events during the rainy season,” said Joseph Macarthy, director of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre.

“For a lot of people, it doesn’t matter if their lives have faced disaster… once they’re here, they know they can rest assured that they have (a bit of money) that can at least get them a plate of rice.”

– climate risk

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned this month that coastal flooding due to warming seas could affect nearly 900 million people and force “a mass exodus of entire populations on biblical proportions”.

Freetown’s mayor says the solution is to create more commercially attractive destinations outside of the city.

“They don’t want Freetown, it’s jobs, it’s food, it’s opportunities to access healthcare,” Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr told AFP.

“If you give it to them somewhere else, they go somewhere else.”

However, the city is working to improve conditions in existing slums. Together with development organizations she introduced public toilets and faucets in Susan’s Bay.

But the city and local organizations have urged residents to halt further expansion.

“At the end of the day we will have no sea,” said Andrew Saffa, an administrator at FEDURP.

“And when the sea comes and reclaims its land, it causes many disasters.”

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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