After the fire, before the rains: The race to rebuild in Sierra Leone

June 27, 2019
Photo by Eoin O'Donnell

When fire ripped through a crowded coastal slum in Freetown, West Africa earlier this year it caused widespread devastation. Amazingly, nobody died — but hundreds of families were left homeless and desperate, with the rainy season just weeks away. Concern stepped in.

Some of the burnt remains at the Kroo Bay slum in Freetown,

Some of the burnt remains at the Kroo Bay slum in Freetown, Sierra Leone after the fire. Photo: Eoin O’Donnell

Disaster

Kroo Bay is one of the poorest slums in West Africa — over 10,000 people crammed into a jumble of tin shacks and rough concrete dwellings on the shores of the Atlantic in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Among the mounds of garbage and human waste, everyday life there is perilous, with regular flooding and rampant diseases. This area was one of the worst hit during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015. In the early hours of March 5th, a fire in one of the dwellings rapidly spread through the neighborhood, forcing families to flee from their homes. Nearly 500 dwellings were destroyed.

“There were families sleeping on the burnt ruins of their homes.”

Concern’s Program Manager in Freetown is Eoin O’Donnell. “We had to respond and quickly before the monsoon rains came — there were families sleeping on the burnt ruins of their homes.” Concern has worked in Kroo Bay for years and has a strong connection with the community. Sourcing money from a humanitarian fund, the Sierra Leone team moved quickly to get a reconstruction project under way.

Kroo Bay slum residents sleeping rough after fire destroyed their home.

Kroo Bay slum residents sleeping rough after fire destroyed their home. Photo: Eoin O’Donnell

Response

Concern Worldwide staff Aminata Musa-Phorah, Eoin O’Donnell and Dan Otieno at a distribution point near the fire affected site.

Aminata Musa-Phorah, Eoin O’Donnell, and Dan Otieno of Concern.

“We put a plan together with the local government and community and moved over 500 tons of building materials, much of it carried to the site by hand, over a two week period,” according to Eoin. Because of the terrain, the affected area was particularly difficult to access, making the task extremely challenging. Construction materials used included zinc sheets for walls and roofing, bush sticks for structural support, timber, nails and cement.

“Overexcited at the complete support given to our community.”

In all, 426 homes were rebuilt, benefiting nearly 1,400 people who had been sleeping rough. 600 of them were children. The construction work was done by local people. Veronica Williams, a single mother-of-four who “lost everything” in the fire, said she was “overexcited at the complete support given to our community.”

Residents rebuilding their homes after Concern donated materials needed at the Kroo Bay slum in Freetown.

Residents rebuilding their homes after Concern donated materials needed at the Kroo Bay slum in Freetown. Photo: Eoin O’Donnell

Completed homes at Kroo Bay, Freetown

Completed homes at Kroo Bay, Freetown. Photo: Eoin O’Donnell

Last year, Concern teams around the world responded to over 60 local emergencies, ranging from floods and landslides to fires and storms. Each country team has an emergency plan, with staff trained and primed to take action when needed.

Kroo Bay resident Veronica Williams inside her rebuilt home.

Kroo Bay resident Veronica Williams inside her rebuilt home. Photo: Eoin O’Donnell

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