Caritas Freetown’s Insight into Slum Community Susceptible to Disasters in Sierra Leone

Flood damage in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 31 August 2022. Credit: Office of the Mayor of Freetown

Every time that flooding, mudslides, fires and other disasters hit the Western communities of Sierra Leone, Culvert, a low land informal settlement in the East of Freetown is one of the places that are left battered the most, with victims mostly having to start life afresh.

In the recent flooding incidents that occurred from August 14 to 17 and between August 27 and 28, Culvert was the worst hit, according to an assessment that was conducted by Caritas Freetown.

The assessment that Caritas Freetown Executive Director, Fr. Peter Konteh, shared with ACI Africa indicated that 2,400 people, representing 85 percent of the slum community’s total population, were rendered homeless in the first flooding incident. 

Additionally, 17 other communities were affected by the floods that occurred from August 14 to 17, including Congo Town Bridge where approximately 1,000 people were affected and Congo Town where an estimated 500 people were affected.

In the second flooding incident that occurred between August 27 and 28, an estimated 12,000 people were affected in Culvert alone when torrential downpour left houses clogged in mud, electricity poles fallen, descending boulders, among a series of other damages.


In a Wednesday, August 31 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Konteh blamed the frequent natural disasters in Sierra Leone on destruction of the environment and poor housing in the area.

“People have been building in wrong places, thereby inhibiting the natural flow of water when it rains. There has also been massive deforestation, leaving the land bare and susceptible to flooding,” the Sierra Leonean Catholic Priest said.

A baseline survey conducted by Caritas Freetown in Culvert, in particular, with finance and support from Caritas Germany, indicates that the slum neighborhood is “exposed to piles of waste, diseases and malaria especially during the rains.”

The survey indicates that Culvert community has a population of 9,193 who have exerted a lot of pressure on the community’s resources.

“There has been a high level of destruction of trees across flood plain areas and a scaled down of conservation of the natural channels in 13 catchment areas operationalized across all 48 wards in Freetown,” Caritas Freetown indicates in its report on Culvert.

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Just like the other 48 wards established in Freetown, there are no community-led early warning systems in case of an emergency in Culvert.

“There are no proper Community-led continuous clearing of drainages across all 48 Wards and 320 zones. There are no community-built drainages in the target 30 flood prone informal communities in Freetown. No Construction of culverts to increase access during the rainy season in the target 30 flood prone informal communities in Freetown. No Community managed waste collection was established and no regular house-to-house sensitization on hygiene and waste disposal conducted in the target 30 flood prone informal communities in Freetown. The Culvert community is no exception,” Caritas Freetown explains.

The charity arm of the Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown observes that Culvert has a huge dumping site hanging partly over it, which makes it vulnerable to fire and flooding hazards.

The community lacks a health center, which makes it challenging for women, children, aged and lactating mothers to quickly access health care in cases of emergency, Caritas Freetown observes.

The entity reports that Culvert community lacks wider roads for vehicle and motor bikes use, and that the available footpaths are narrow and for some areas impossible to reach.


It notes that the people need wider roads and bridges in the community, and explains, “There are few sticks and board bridges which are even dangerous for use. Some need repairs, some need a total overhaul and, in some areas, they need new footbridges.”

Caritas Freetown notes that construction of bridges will be more beneficial for pregnant women, lactating mothers, persons with disabilities, the aged and the sick in cases of emergency.

“In the period under review, we have evidenced challenges that the people go through to evacuate the serious sick, pregnant women, children and lactating mother in time of emergencies,” the charity and development arm of the Church in Sierra Leone says, and adds, “In the raining season, due to overflowing ditches and the few available foot bridges, the children cannot venture of their homes to school or to the market to buy food.”

Managing waste is another hurdle for residents of Culvert, Fr. Konteh has told ACI Africa, adding that over time, Caritas Freetown has been engaged in clean-up activities and sensitization programs to help the community keep the environment clean.

“Before our intervention, people just littered the community with no control and penalties for defaulters. During our intervention, we taught them on waste control and disposal mechanisms,” Fr. Konteh told ACI Africa in the August 31 interview.

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He said that the Church institution is collaborating with the Western Area Municipality Council on other environmental interventions in the community.

“In collaboration we are to popularize the by-laws formulated by the council and will ensure they become effective in the Culvert community,” the Freetown Caritas Executive Director said, adding that the Culvert community members are becoming more involved in the care of their surroundings.


Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.