The September floods in Freetown, Sierra Leone were devastating and the areas worst affected were coastal slums where residents are already extremely poor and vulnerable.
Adama Kamara wasn’t at home when the downpour started, but she knew her baby was. When the water flooded her Freetown home she lost almost everything – but not her child. “I had to break the door to bring him out,” said Adama, who lives close to the waterfront. “Everything got spoilt. We could not take anything out. Everything we are wearing now was given to us.”
“I have never seen this kind of water since I was born,” said Adama. “The water flooded the streets because it does not have passage to go down. The water does not have passage because of the trees that have been cut up the hills. It is affecting everywhere. People are blocking the river-banks and building houses. When the water does not have passage, it goes into the houses to find its way.”
Thousands of displaced people have gathered at Freetown’s Siaka Stevens National Stadium, and also at the smaller Atouga Stadium in Eastern Freetown.
“We came here at night. We heard over radio that the President asked people affected to come to the stadium. We came late so we didn’t have a place to sleep. I had to carry my baby in my arms until this morning. I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping here, the place is cold especially for my baby. He is just two weeks old,” said Adama.
UNICEF and partners are supporting the Government of Sierra Leone to respond to the emergency, and meeting the emergency shelter, food and water needs of mothers and children was a high priority from the start.
Like Adama, Isata Kamara came to the National Stadium with her baby.
“I was living with my aunt and my baby’s father at Kroo Bay and when the rain came, it washed away all of our belongings,” Isata said from the Siaka Stevens Stadium with her ten-month-old son Emmanuel Conteh. “We were told to come to the stadium because the rain affected us, and that’s why I’m here.”
Clinics for children five and under have been set up at the stadiums, and Isata was directed there after registering in the stadium.
“My child wasn’t feeling well and had to be admitted,” said Isata. Emmanuel received medicines and high-energy therapeutic foods which are being distributed free of charge for sick and malnourished children. “They gave me a mattress and the people here take care of us. They give us food, water and other things. I sleep at the section for mothers inside the ‘Child Friendly Space.’”
A ‘Child Friendly Space’ was established for the younger children, 500 of whom have been registered at the National Stadium: Adama and her baby sleep there. Since the emergency began, UNICEF has distributed 940 mattresses and 1,600 pillows, with priority to pregnant and breastfeeding women and families with small children.
UNICEF is trucking in water daily to ensure there is enough to serve all the people sheltering there. Partners like WFP are ensuring that everyone is well fed, supported by contributions from the wider Freetown society.
UNICEF is providing milk and high-energy nutritional biscuits to children five years and under. Toilets, latrines, hand washing stations and showers have been set up and supplied – critical interventions to prevent outbreak of diseases like Cholera and Ebola. Women and children are being cared for in temporary health clinics set up by UNICEF, and UNICEF-supported social mobilizers continue to share safety information about avoiding Ebola.
Several weeks after the floods, the more than 14,000 affected persons registered at the two stadiums are being cared for in a safe and protected environment with their essential needs fulfilled. UNICEF continues to support the emergency response to the floods in partnership with other UN agencies and NGOs.
Fatmata Conteh is staying at Atouga Stadium with her four children. “I sell things to earn my living – biscuits, sweets, and so on,” said Fatmata. “But I lost everything. So today I am not thinking much about tomorrow – now I am thinking about getting food to eat. We don’t know about our future.”
For now, Fatmata’s family is being well cared for, and the work to rehabilitate flood-affected communities awaits.