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Flooding in Freetown: a Post-Ebola Catastrophe

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Flooding is turning out to be a major news story this month. At the time of this publication, the catastrophic flooding in Houston has displaced thousands, and at least five are reported dead.  Meanwhile, in Freetown, the capitol of Sierra Leone, people are still searching for the missing after a mudslide and flood that has left an estimated 1,000 dead. What is taking place in Houston is an epic-sized natural disaster, and we are watching it unfold in real time. The city will need years to fully recover, and there will be people that will never recover their belongings or their homes.  However, as you watch on TV as families are airlifted out of homes to safety, or as shelter and hot meals are provided to Houstonians, think about how fortunate we are in this country to have infrastructures in place that allow us to respond to natural disasters. Think of Freetown.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world – the World Bank ranks it #174 out of 187 in GDP per capita (that’s 13 places from the bottom of the list). The World Health Organization ranks Sierra Leone last in life expectancy among all countries – the average Sierra Leonean is expected to live 50.1 years. These characteristics, among others, are the result of many factors, not the least of which include a brutal civil war that took place from 1991-2002, and the world’s worst Ebola outbreak that took place between 2013-2016. When these factors are combined with poor road/housing construction and an enormous amount of rainfall, the effects are catastrophic.
Freetown, in addition to rebuilding communities and locating missing persons, must now focus on the inevitable aftermath of flooding in developing countries. Cholera outbreaks are a near certainty, as drinking water and waste water have likely been cross-contaminated, and corpses have been lying in the flooded streets. Mosquito-borne illnesses, such as yellow fever and malaria, are likely to spike as breeding areas become more prevalent, and persons are displaced from their protective shelters.  Finally, there is the chance of more mudslides, compounding these problems, and setting back restorative efforts. The displaced in Houston are truly fortunate to not have to face these challenges.
The mudslide and flooding in Freetown have hit especially hard in the lingering shadow of the Ebola outbreak. Communities that have lost so much and faced such terror are now confronted with more loss and more terror. In the next few weeks, as you read about and think of Houston, please think, too, of Freetown.

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