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Pujehun on disaster alert

By Mohamed T Massaquoi in Pujehun

Authorities in disaster-prone Pujehun have reactivated the District Disaster Management Committee ahead of anticipated heavy downpours that have in the past led to flooding and severe destruction.

Over the years Pujehun has experienced both fire disasters and flooding, leaving many people homeless and in huge financial losses. While fire outbreaks are usually frequent in the month of March, flooding happens in the months of August and September.

Last year`s flooding, for instance, left the main Pujehun - Bo highway, along Gobaru, about half mile from Pujehun Town, cut off. One of the consequences of that was the high cost of transportation, as drivers demanded almost double the official fare between Pujehun and Bo. The drivers defended the decision saying they had to change their route through Jimmy Bagbao in Sahn Malen chiefdom, which elongates the distance.

By every indication flooding is imminent in Pujehun as the river bed has visibly risen barely two weeks into August, leaving reverine communities like the Mano Sakrim and Yah Kemoh Kpukumu Krim chiefdoms in immediate danger.

Early this month, the Disaster Management Department of the Office of National Security (ONS) convened a meeting with the district stakeholders on the issue. Pujehun District Council chairman, Sadiq Silla, said at that meeting that he was calling for the immediate reactivation of the district disaster management committee as part of their early warning response system.

“I am going to see that all humanitarian organizations operating in my district that have funds for such responses go into action now instead of waiting for flooding to take place before responding,” Silla later told Politico in an interview.

Last August, according to figures from the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society Pujehun branch, 24 communities in five chiefdoms were initially washed away by flooding. The most affected chiefdoms were Kpanga Kabondeh, Barri, Kpaka, Mano Sakrim and Yah Kemoh Kpukumu Krim.

Tussor Village in the Kpanga Kabondeh chiefdom was completely destroyed by the swelling waters.

Presently, accessing Tussor is already near impossible with the river tide increasing by the day with heavy down pours.

According to the Red Cross statistics, 1,326 people were left displaced across the affected chiefdoms lat year. About 57 houses collapsed, while 50 others were seriously damaged.

Among several factors, proximity of these vulnerable communities to the River Wanjei and Lake Makibie in the district has been the main one, say experts.

“Our focus is to reactivate and orientate the committee in terms of disaster risk reduction and management,” said Mohamed Sidikie Dabo, Research Desk Officer at the Disaster Management Department at the ONS national headquarters, in Freetown.

Dabo told the Pujehun stakeholders` meeting that the role of the committee was to carry out early sensitization in addressing “the unforeseen disasters,” noting that yearly reports had already indicate that Pujehun District always experienced both flooding and fire outbreak. This, he said, only called for “total cooperation” of the district stakeholders for prevention and rapid response.

Rubiatu Nicole, Acting Programme Administrator of the Red Cross Society in Pujehun, said the only prevention method was for residents in the vulnerable communities to move to safer areas.

But this, according to reports, will be difficult because locals are not even willing to consider it given their historical attachment to their villages.

(C) Politico 25/08/15