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Thousands left homeless after a devastating fire broke out in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Thousands left homeless after a devastating fire broke out in Freetown, Sierra Leone. 

Sierra Leone fire: Thousands left homeless.

Seven thousand people have been left homeless after a devastating fire broke out on the evening of 25 March in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Vatican News Service and Agenzia Fides

Thousands of residents of a slum in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, require emergency assistance after a fire engulfed the whole township, the country's authorities confirmed this week.

Due to its location, Susan’s Bay on the Atlantic Ocean, is the landing place for hundreds of canoes and boats that everyday unload goods from the hinterland, such as charcoal or vegetables, destined for Freetown’s central markets.

3 000 meals a day

The Catholic Diocese’s Caritas Freetown said it was doing what it could but the needs outstrip resources. The church organisation has launched a 21-day emergency programme.

“So far, we have provided an average of 3 000 meals a day to the needy population, and we will continue to do so for 21 days. Seven refreshment and coordination points have been set up where volunteers from the organisation provide displaced people with food, drinking water, blankets and basic clothing,” said Ishmael Charles, head of programmes at Caritas Freetown.

Bad weather has also brought heavy rains that have aggravated the conditions for people who were already without shelter. Many people are sleeping outside in the open.

Call for planned settlements

Over the years, about 11 000 people have found shelter in Susan’s Bay, a sort of ‘shantytown’ of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. With time a large community, mainly engaged in informal trade and fishing, has emerged. Built with metal sheets and salvaged material, the densely populated Bay has developed in a chaotic and disorderly manner, without an urban plan or an evacuation or rescue plan.

The situation is very difficult,” explained the Caritas official, Charles. Freetown Mayor, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr has called for planned settlements.

“The whole community has been wiped out,” Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr said. “Once again, there was no access for the firefighters. A six-storey building under construction blocked all available access”, she denounced.

She maintains that “disaster risk reduction cannot occur without effective urban planning and a building permit regime focused on reducing human-made environmental risks. “Join us in praying for the victims”, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr implored.

31 March 2021, 15:59