Once again, from all of us at Bread and Water for Africa®, our hearts go out to the people of Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has had a history of natural disasters and violence. In the 1990s they suffered through a horrific civil war, then in 2014 the country lost over 4,000 of its citizens from the deadly Ebola virus outbreak leaving the struggling nation, already among the poorest in the world, devastated.
And then, just as the country was returning to some semblance of normalcy, in the early morning hours of August 14, after days of unrelenting rain, a sea of mud and rock came crashing down into the suburbs of the nation’s capital of Freetown. Initial reports stated 500 are confirmed dead, including 150 children, with more than 600 people still missing. In addition, 20,000 inhabitants, including 5,000 children, have been displaced.
Media reports in the days that followed highlighted the harrowing details of the tragedy, including the fact that the worst is yet to come as rain continued, food and medical supplies are low and it is doubtful that there will be any more survivors found, more than doubling the death toll.
The actual number of victims is difficult to know. Given the force of the mudslide, a volunteer told the British news agency that more than a week after the disaster, “We are still finding body parts in the rubble.”
The most vulnerable are the young children made orphans by this catastrophe.
In an August 24 ABC news report, charities in Sierra Leone (such as Bread and Water for Africa® and our long-time partner, Faith Healing Development Organization (FHDO)) “are grappling with how to help the hundreds of children who have lost parents. It is particularly difficult in a country where just two years ago, a deadly Ebola outbreak decimated many families.”
The Sierra Leone government estimates that at least 4,000 children have been affected and humanitarian aid groups, like Bread and Water for Africa®, are racing to help prevent orphaned children from further trauma.
In addition to the challenges of treating their injuries and providing food and shelter, there is the real fear that child traffickers will be seeking to exploit the situation in Freetown.
“They are especially vulnerable right now,” an aid worker told ABC news. “We saw cases like this during the Ebola outbreak where individuals will come in, say they want to care for a child, take him or her into their home and then abuse them. So we are seeing this as a situation that’s ripe for that kind of exploitation and we want to prevent it.”
According to UNICEF, of the 7,000 people that have registered as being affected by the disaster, 15 percent, or 1050 individuals, are children under the age of 5, with another 40 percent, or 2,800 between the ages of 6 and 18.
“Children have been left homeless, vulnerable and terrified,” stated a UNICEF spokesman. “We must do all we can to protect them from disease and exploitation.”
Safe drinking water and shelter are the immediate priorities for thousands of people, according to the United Nations.
With destruction and damage to water and sanitation facilities, a major concern for government and health officials is an outbreak of cholera, malaria and other infectious diseases.
The country’s deputy health minister told CNN that some residents have skin infections from the water they are washing in, and officials are putting in place plans for cholera preparedness and prevention.
“We are equipped to a point,” the deputy minister said. “We can’t do it alone.”
The presidential spokesman has appealed for more international aid including medical supplies, shelters, and blankets to help the city recover but warns that there is “a high risk of cholera” with people still living in the devastated areas, without clean water and sanitation.
“We are overstretched,” he told CNN. “We were just on the verge of recuperating after Ebola and the civil war. We are overwhelmed. Sierra Leone is a small country with a small economy and we cannot do this alone…we appeal very passionately to the world to come to our aid.”
The World Health Organization reports that it is working closely with the Sierra Leone government to prevent the spread of malaria, cholera, typhoid and diarrheal conditions in the wake of last week’s mudslides and flooding. Community workers are being trained to recognize the signs of these deadly diseases in areas at risk.
What Bread and Water for Africa® is Doing Today
During the deadly Ebola outbreak of 2014, Bread and Water for Africa® was there working hand-in-hand with FHDO in their efforts to provide medicines and food to thousands.
And thanks to our generous supporters, we are there for them once again.
With food and medicine in short supply, we teamed up with our partner, MAP International, to have emergency medicine immediately airlifted to the country.
In addition, we have teamed up with FHDO to provide food and other medical supplies.
With the funding we received from our donors, FHDO Executive Director Rev. Frances Mambu was able to purchase rice, oil and many other food and hygiene items for the injured, hungry and homeless.
And in a few weeks we will be shipping a 20-foot container of more medicines and medical supplies recognizing that the pain and suffering will continue for the months to come.
With sincere thanks to our supporters and partners, Bread and Water for Africa® will be doing all we can to alleviate the suffering of thousands in Sierra Leone.