The height of the rainy season is expected in August, with 90% of Sierra Leone’s yearly rainfall normally recorded in July and August. Western Area Urban and Western Area Rural districts are particularly vulnerable due to their high population density, proximity to the coast and deforestation in the neighouring hills. The recent flooding of 14 July 2020 raises a number of concerns regarding the level of preparedness. There has already been minor displacement but no assessment of the needs of those displaced highlighting the limited capacity of emergency response in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone reported its first two confirmed case of COVID-19 on 30 March and 02 April. Sierra Leone was one of the last West African countries having no confirmed cases although it was one of the only countries in Africa having COVID-19 testing prior to the global outbreak. Three new testing sites have recently been set up and can undertake up to 40 tests a day with capacity to install a 130 bed isolation unit; China has also donated additional tests, respirators, and PPE. It is unclear if this capacity is concentrated in Freetown or is across the country.
The country is likely to face challenges if the virus is not contained and there is a large outbreak, especially in its capital and biggest city, Freetown. In 2015 the greater Freetown area was the country’s Ebola epicentre, seeing high caseloads and a lack of coping capacity. Current plans are informed by lessons learned, although the infrastructural and economic conditions of much of the city’s inhabitants are challenging and may hamper COVID-19 prevention efforts.
Torrential rains starting from 2 August have led to flooding in Freetown. Despite the normal peak of the rainy season in August, the soil was previously saturated by rains in July. At least 6 people are reported dead and some 5,000 people are believed to have lost their shelter. Informal settlements, including impoverished slum communities, scattered around the city and mostly built in flood or landslide prone areas, are likely the most affected and at risk of further flooding, considering the forecasted rains in the coming days.
Rains in Freetown started on Sunday 13 August and have continued since. At least 400 people, including at least 60 children, were killed following the collapse of a hillside in the Regent area near the capital, in Greater Freetown early on Monday morning, as many people were asleep. Since 1 July, Freetown has received triple the usual amount of rain. Most affected areas are within an area known as Regent. Three other communities were inundated, at Lumley in the west of Freetown as well as Kissy Brook and Dworzak Farm.