Overdevelopment has caused so much destruction. It is time to replant the trees we have cut down and be better stewards of our land.
Volunteers search for bodies after heavy flooding and mudslides just outside of Freetown, Sierra Leone, 15 August 2017. (AP Photo/Manika Kamara)
In August 2017, Brima George left his house in the Matormeh community of Sierra Leone to watch a football game between Barcelona and Real Madrid. He was 37, married and raising five children. Heavy rains prevented him from returning home, so he stayed to celebrate. He had won money on a bet he made and looked forward to telling his wife the money would feed the family for a few weeks more.
But he came home to find his house gone — lost in a mudslide.
According to the World Bank Group, 1,141 people died or went missing during those 2017 floods. Communities like Mount SugarLoaf, Regent Village, Kaningo/Kamayama axis, Juba, Tengbeh Town, Matomeh, Lumley, Kroo Bay, Red Pump and Gloucester Village were all affected.
Brima’s whole neighborhood was buried in the ground — including eight of his brothers and their families. Fortunately, Brima’s wife and children had left their house before the mudslide.
“It was that game that saved my life,” Brima cried. He kept repeating “Only God,” as he believed God had spared him. He is now known by that name: “Only God.”
Overdevelopment led to deforestation.
Sierra Leone is a small country in West Africa with eight million people. I was born and raised in the capital city, Freetown. It is the most populated city in Sierra Leone and also one of the smallest in geography. The mass construction of houses in the hills and slums left the city vulnerable to flooding and mudslides.
In 2021 and 2022, the town recorded more than 400 floods in two years. In August 2022, Freetown was hit again by a massive mudslide and flooding, with more than 200 people dead or missing.
In 2015, Freetown had more than 1.5 million people, but was initially built for 2,000 people. Because the city is small and many believe it is a place of opportunity, they decide to build in the slums and find their way up to the hilltop.
Many believe that building on top of a hill is not a problem. But to acquire land and mount a structure often requires the cutting down of trees, which impairs the natural environmental protection.
Since climate change occurs over a long time, many cannot see the long-term harm caused when you deforest the community — or many just choose to look away.
Urbanization and its effects are a ticking time bomb.
After several years of deforestation, Freetown is now reaping the seeds its people sowed.
People in Sierra Leone not only deforest for housing, but also use the trees for charcoal as the primary fuel for cooking and then fail to plant more trees to replace those they are cutting. The burning releases greenhouse gases which is terrible for our environment and atmosphere.
Coming to Freetown, many want to own property. Because there is limited land available in the lower areas, people seek to build their houses in the mountains. They block waterways and cut and burn down trees.
In August 2022, Marian Turay woke at 2 a.m. to the sound of torrential rainfall by her two-year-old daughter Isata, the eldest of Turay’s three children. Isata’s sleeping mat was covered with dirty water. The mat and Turay’s bed were the only things left in the house. As more water flowed in, she went outside to look for help, but what her eyes saw left her mute.
“People were drowning and the water was carrying dead bodies of children and adults,” Turay said.
She couldn’t swim, so she decided to make a hole in the roof and a passage for her little ones. They had to stay on top of the roof for about two hours before people in the community could find a way to save them, as their little mud house was now covered by water.
Many others were not as lucky to make it out safely.
We must plant trees in Africa to prevent mudslides.
Floods and landslides occur because of the actions we take in our environments. Innocent people suffer the consequences of these actions and we will eventually be held responsible. That is why we all have a great responsibility to make sure we plant trees, speak up, walk more, drive less and protect our climate.
The Government of Sierra Leone, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning, Freetown City Council, Environmental Protection Agency, Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority and other agencies should collaborate and build better drainage for the water to pass freely.
They should enforce the laws for cutting down trees and burning them, and building in water passages and hilltops while deforesting.
Planting millions of trees in Sierra Leone
The Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, has embarked on project to plant one million trees in two years. She has worked with community leaders to enforce tree plantation for every tree cut down.
Moreover, the government is encouraging citizens to limit the amount of charcoal they use as they know most of the population cannot afford electric cookers.
But there is still a lot that needs to be done regarding landfills across the country.
Every community has a place where people throw trash — a small corner or a drainage system that will eventually fill. And the water will have no passage but to take on the streets.
We should open our eyes and protect our environment and climate. If we can change, we can all endure.
Three questions to consider:
- What environmental problems occur when land is deforested?
- What does the author say must be done to avoid flooding and mudslides in the future?
- How could you build needed housing for people and avoid environmental destruction?
Kamuskay Kamara is a first-year student at the African Leadership University in Kigali, Rwanda and an alumnus of the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, a News Decoder partner institution. A citizen of Sierra Leone, he founded an NGO called “Young Active Movement” to combat drug abuse in his neighborhood and to help young people envision a better society for all.