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Mass burials for Sierra Leone flood victims

“Children have been left homeless, vulnerable and terrified,” said UNICEF Representative Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim.

Others began to ask why such a tragedy was allowed to happen in the first place, given the clockwork regularity of annual flooding in Freetown.

“I think it’s the deforestation,” said resident Samuel Lackoh, speaking to AFP in Pentagon.

In recent years, trees have been cut down from the Western peninsular forest on Freetown’s limits, with everything from shacks to mansions springing up on the slopes.

Jamie Hitchen, an expert with the Africa Research Institute, told AFP that poor urban planning had been a problem for years, but that the government response had “broadly been one of inaction”.

“Particularly in the areas around Regent, construction of houses illegally is being undertaken at all levels of society with impunity,” he said in an email to AFP.

Identifying deficiencies in waste management, preventing deforestation, urban planning and the provision of decent housing, Hitchen said “a problem of politics” meant that the city’s drains were blocked and dump sites were full.

“There is no urban planning to speak of in the city,” he added.

– Future relocation? –

The government has said that in the light of the catastrophe, “relocation and opening up of a new settlement around the Freetown peninsula” would be considered, but similar measures have failed in the past as people seek to live close to the city centre for work.

A looming knock-on effect of stagnant water pooling could be a cholera risk, said British charity Oxfam, which is distributing clean water and hygiene kits to the homeless.

Sierra Leone, a former British colony, meanwhile received condolences from Queen Elizabeth II, who said she was “deeply saddened to learn of the terrible flooding and landslides in Freetown that have led to the deaths of so many people.”

Hull, a British city which is twinned with Freetown, has launched its own aid appeal, joining foreign governments including Guinea, Israel, Liberia, Senegal and the EU in sending food and cash to the stricken city.

Sierra Leone ranked 179th out of 188 countries on the UN Development Programme’s 2016 Human Development Index, a basket of data combining life expectancy, education and income and other factors.

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