By Amin Kef Sesay
As one of the poorest slum communities in the capital Freetown the Susan Bay community was engulfed in a massive blaze of fire on Wednesday evening, destroying properties and leaving thousands of people destitute. Some have been displaced as a result of the outbreak of a fire disaster on the evening of March 24, 2021.
The Freetown City Council said the extent of the damage to the area of Susan’s Bay is unknown but stated that what is clear is that “thousands are likely to have been affected”.
It is not clear what could have started the fire, but such outbreak is
not unusual in highly densely populated and overcrowded communities where houses are made of pieces of timber and metal sheets, and many households using kerosene lamps to light up their homes.
Poor electricity wiring and illegal tapping into the national electricity grid are also possible causes of the fire. The raging inferno which could be seen for several miles into the horizon, has prompted calls once again for the resettlement of people living in appalling conditions in slum communities.
It is estimated that over 500,000 people in Freetown live in slum areas with no access to drinking water and poor sanitation.
“Just left the scene of a terrible fire at Susan’s Bay. The entire community has been burnt to the ground. Thousands are affected. We won’t know the full scale of the disaster until tomorrow when we conduct an assessment with NDMA and other partners. Many children are missing, separated from their parents in the chaos. Twelve children were at the FSU at Eastern Police station. We understand that other children might have boarded boats moored on the wharf,” an eyewitness disclosed.
“There was no access for the fire service. A six-storey building under construction at the Guinea Store entrance to Susan’s Bay blocked what access there would previously have been from that end,” she continued.
“Disaster risk reduction cannot happen without effective urban planning and a building permit regime which is focused on reducing environmental and man-made risks. Local Councils are best placed to deliver these mandates and even as we once again face disasters like this terrible fire, we trust that devolution of land use planning and building permit issuance will happen soon. We believe that this will through policy design help to mitigate against these disasters” a Government official stated.
Also reacting to the fire disaster, the former Attorney General of Sierra Leone – Joseph Kamara said: “My heartfelt condolences to the victims of the fire incident that occurred at Susan’s Bay last night.
“While the cause of the fire remains obscure, the Emergence Response to such disasters must be revisited. Immediate arrangements should be made for shelter relocation, medical care and food supplies. It will not be unwise to set up an Investigative Panel moving forwards,” he recommended.