Sierra Leone’s geographical location, land characteristics, large number of rivers, and monsoon climate make the country susceptible to multiple natural hazards, particularly floods, wind storms, landslides, and coastal erosion. The primary cause of flooding in Sierra Leone is tropical rains, lack of urban planning and block drainages in urban areas and big towns. In September 2015, massive floods caused by torrential rains hit the capital, Freetown, and caused serious damage, particularly to people living in slum areas. They left more than 3,000 people displaced in Freetown and damaged a number of water points and sanitation facilities as a result of contamination.
Sierra Leone has been ranked as the third most vulnerable country in the world to the adverse effects of climate change, after Bangladesh and Guinea Bissau. Extreme precipitation and sea level rise increasingly threatens coastal areas with flooding and erosion. In Sierra Leone, the average annual temperature is projected to increase between 1.0° C and 2.6° C by the 2060s and 1.5° C and 4.6° C by the 2090s. Sea level is projected increase between 0.4 m to 0.7 m by 2100.
The Government of Sierra Leone has taken steps to strengthen the roles and responsibilities of its institutions on disaster risk management (DRM).
In 2004, the government established the National Disaster Management Department in the Office of National Security and adopted disaster risk reduction (DRR) as a national and local priority. The department coordinates disaster management at various levels and takes a lead role in developing a comprehensive disaster management plan through a participatory process involving all stakeholders. In the same year, the government also developed the National Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan to establish a comprehensive and all-hazard approach to national disaster management activities, including preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response and recovery.
The National Climate Change Secretariat is the primary agency for climate change response. Sierra Leone has published three National Strategies on Climate Change since 2000 and in 2009, adopted its first Special Program on Climate Change.
Progress on DRM were temporarily hampered by the Ebola outbreak in May 2014, which crippled the country’s economy.
To further advance its DRM agenda, Sierra Leone is prioritizing:
- DRM information gathering and sharing at the community level;
- Institutional strengthening and capacity building; and,
- Increasing the resilience of the population to natural hazards in urban and coastal areas.
GFDRR has helped enable DRM efforts in Sierra Leone since 2008. Key areas of focus have included supporting community-level action for risk reduction, preparedness and recovery.
Initial support helped enable West African countries, including Sierra Leone, co-manage marine resources for DRR. With the goal of advancing decentralization and local decision-making over marine resource management and sustainability, the project developed a toolkit to help communities and governments monitor and assess the health of the natural resources base on which they rely for their livelihoods, and make local-level policy decisions on resource management and disaster risk prevention. The project focused largely on empowering women, as they are mostly employed in the fish-processing sector and are most affected by marine resource depletion within the group.
Since 2012, GFDRR has supported through the ACP-EU Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Program a community-based DRR project to strengthen the country’s national-level coordination capacity for DRR, preparedness and emergency response. Activities will develop city-level risk assessment on floods, landslide, sea level rise, and costal erosion in Bo, Freetown, and Makeni, and promote pilot programs and capacity building for cities community-based DRM, with the goal to provide a comprehensive risk analysis, description of various hazards, and risks and vulnerabilities mappings. The project is expected to identify priority DRR needs, priority investments, and feasibility studies for key hazards, such as floods and coastal erosion. The risk analysis and mappings methodology will be based on geographical evidence, historical data, communities’ knowledge sharing and projections of future hazards.
Looking ahead, GFDRR anticipates demand on:
- Strengthening institutional capacity and consensus building for DRR;
- Enhancing DRR programs through improvement of DRR tools; and,
- Mainstreaming DRR in poverty reduction strategies and various sectoral development policies.