The recent floods in our country have generated so much in the media that one cannot avoid its impact on especially the lives of those directly affected. It goes without saying that the amount of destruction that was wreaked on our lives, infrastructure and landscape has been so vivid that it is bound to leave an indelible mark on the psyche of the average Sierra Leonean. This has left us all wondering and scratching our heads as to “WHY US”? The recent floods might be the latest, but the frequency and catastrophic effects with which our country has been afflicted in recent times have left many pondering as to the causes of them. It feels like flogging a dead horse to remind people that we had just endured a decade long period of one of the most brutal civil wars in the history of mankind. Just as the country was breathing a sigh of relief and looking for its feet, the Ebola plague cast a ravaging and devastating blow to our country. The consequences of the disease cannot be over-emphasised here. As if we had not paid enough for our sins, you could be forgiven to think that it was the time for Noah’s Ark, when the heavens opened onto our city and its environs. It is the sequential manner of the disasters that has left many wondering about our nation’s apparent “affinity for, and propensity to attract chaos and disasters”.
As our nation wakes up to counting the cost of our latest “natural disaster” the search for answers has not been lost on our leaders. The average African has a fatalistic view about life, and as Sierra Leoneans we seem to take pride in our “how for do?” mentality. When faced with situations that are inexplicable, we bury our heads into the heavens, and take the celestial route for answers. Some call it religious, and it works sometimes. But in our desperate search to look for causes and answers, the game of finger pointing has not gone amiss. In our desperate hour of need, you wonder how much effect the blame game can have in tackling what looks like a common currency for our country.
The Ebola plague was undoubtedly devastating, but did it ironically prepare us psychologically enough, to absorb such disasters? Are we in danger of becoming disaster fatigue? Has the experience of Ebola left us disaster ready or disaster prone? There are many who will subscribe to the latter. Suffice it to say that our propensity to be victims of natural and most times, man -made disasters is nothing short of the self-inflicted. It is very easy to conclude that the recent floods was a natural disaster, and this is a fact. But as custodians of our environments, do we share or take any responsibility for the causes of such catastrophes? We cannot run away from the fact that climate change carries the finger prints of humans; and this has been ably demonstrated in our country with suicidal intent.
When Sorius Samura exposed the kind of deforestation (Timber gate) that was rampantly being carried out unchecked in our country, the central theme got lost in translation. Those with political agendas were quick to hijack the discussion and transplanted it into a political afforestation. There is no doubt that the credibility of the programme was brought under scrutiny. The motive of the programme and its makers were attacked and brought under the microscope. We saw how political slave masters jumped on the bandwagon to decry Sorius Samura as unpatriotic. His crime? For exposing the unfettered access some politicians and bigwigs have in destroying our environment for quick personal gains. He was the villain then; but the reality of the situation was not, and will not be lost on the majority. If Sorious Samura had felt unfairly treated then, there could be no better solace, albeit with tragic consequences, than seeing his fears and those of many come to pass.
If my geography lesson serves me well, Freetown is on the leeward side of the Atlantic Ocean. This makes it a prime candidate for heavy rainfall; which can only be good to support lush greenery. The end of the civil war ushered in a new attitude among Sierra Leoneans. With the new found money, courtesy of international donations and budding mining companies; Sierra Leone as a nation enjoyed a boom in the building industry. This was a remarkable feat, considering that our country was just recovering from a social, political and economic coma. Like any other aspect of life, the boom in building came with its unintended consequences, as our “sacred lands” fell under the axe of unrepentant land grabbers and landowners. The devastation of the Freetown Peninsula has been carried out with the conscience of a chainsaw; and with no regard for posterity.
In the 15th century, the Portuguese sailor Pedro da Centra, impressed by the mountains which looked like a crouching lion, named the country “Sierra Lyoa”. Pedro would be turning in his grave now, to see what Sierra Leoneans have done to this beautiful scenery that inspired a country’s name. The Freetown peninsular, which comprises Leicester Peak, Mount Sugar Loaf, Mount Horton and Picket Hill all form the mountain range that rises abruptly from the sea. Sadly today, man and not nature has failed to nurture nature with all its devastating effects. The irony is that most of the buildings sprouting all over the place are owned by the “haves” of our society. But it was the downtrodden man on Kroo bay, Government Wharf, Kingtom Bridge and all the other slum areas that took the full brunt of the flood. Sometimes, you cannot help but wonder at God’s sense of humour. What used to be the crouching lion is fast becoming a concrete jungle for the hard-nosed wildlife of mankind.
There are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the recent devastation. Many have flooded (excuse the pun) their churches, mosques, temples and shrines to offer prayers and supplications for mercy from God Almighty and whatever deity they profess to believe in and worship. These protestations may conveniently pass for an excuse. The bottom line is as a country, our appetite to protect and cater for posterity is severely diminished by our insatiable greed. Any thoughts for the next generation seem to be lost on the average man today. And if anyone thought that this was a peninsular problem, think again. The situation has been repeated country wide from Makeni, Kono, Bo and right down to Bonthe.
It was very re-assuring to see the kind of support that was given to the flood victims. Individuals and organisations showed a very good spirit of kindred. Seeing the President, Ernest Bai Koroma visiting flood victims and the areas was very re-assuring. But the President and his government can still go one step further by implementing legislation to oversee the protection and sustainability of our environment. Our “sacred lands” should remain sacred. With the level of climate change taking place the world over, should this be a gentle reminder of things to come?
It will be preposterous to assume that Sierra Leone is disaster ready or well equipped to deal with natural disasters of such magnitude. Even the developed countries in the West struggle against the destructions from hurricanes, landslides, floods, fires and other natural occurrences. Not even the best man made preparedness can withstand these. Sierra Leone as a nation, has always benefitted from the good will of individuals and donor countries in our time of need. With the frequency of these disasters, there is an inherent fear that we don’t suffer from disaster fatigue. If that was to happen, who would bet against donors suffering from donor fatigue? Hope not.
Over to you Mr. President. Let us get the EPA working; if for nothing else, but for POSTERITY. Just as posterity gives every man his true honour, posterity should not pay for the sins of our fathers.
Don’t forget to plant a tree before you leave the vineyard.