Tuesday, August 07, 2007

In pictures: Sierra Leone slum, Enrichment

 Open sewer

Sierra Leone is going to the polls on 11 August. A brutal, 10-year civil war ended in 2001 and now poverty is the most pressing concern for most voters. Once a small fishing settlement, Kroo Bay is now a sprawling slum filled with rubbish in the capital, Freetown. Home to more than 6,000 people, it is overrun with shanty structures made from discarded metal, sticks, rubbish and mud. Pigs nose in the sludge, while the water is used as an open sewer.  


Below sea level, the slum sits at the point where two of the city’s main rivers reach the Atlantic Ocean. During the heavy rains of June to August, the water – which has a bluish tinge from all the effluent – regularly rises up and floods homes. A Save the Children survey found all the children had respiratory problems such as coughs and colds, while there were also incidences of malaria, leprosy, chicken pox and grave diarrhoeal illnesses.



There is a health clinic but few people use it because you have to pay; instead people go to traditional healers. “We have so many problems – shanty houses and the flooding are the most pressing,” says Mohamed Kargbo, 54, secretary of the Kroo Bay Development Committee. "When we have rains and high tide at the same time the flooding goes up to waist-height.”

Shaky foundations

Many families have to pay rent, even for shanty houses that have been built on the land illegally. As a result others are now trying to build their own houses further out, balancing them on rubbish on top of the sea bed. “Everybody suffers the same calamity,” says Mohamed Kargbo. “We’ve used all the land, so we’re building into the sea. It’s a place for poor people.”



Freetown’s population swelled during the civil war as people attempted to escape atrocities, in which rebels mutilated their victims by amputating arms and legs with machetes. More than 60% have stayed in the capital, and still the rural-urban migration continues. “People in the provinces still think they are better off here,” says Mohamed Sannoh from Save the Children. “Many send their children to the city for the better facilities, only to end up in this kind of deplorable situation.”


Abdul Sankoh, 38, lives in Kroo Bay with his wife and eight children. To scrape a living he sells bags of coal when he can and makes 80 US cents per bag. He might sell 100 bags in three weeks. “I live here because I have no money,” he says about his panbody house, made from metal wrapped around sticks dug into the ground. “I’m penniless. I’m not happy about living here because the situation is so very bad. If I could move I would.”

Sand bags

Safiata Jalloh, 24, lives in the slum with her husband and two children. She is collecting buckets of dirt from the seabed to make the floor of her shanty house, for which she has to pay rent of 20,000 leones ($8) a month. She will try to collect five buckets a day. During the heavy rains, her family fills 10 bags with sand and dirt to try to protect themselves against the floods.



The presidential and parliamentary elections will be hotly contested. Many feel that the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) has not done enough to reduce poverty and are considering turning to other parties, such as the All People’s Congress or SLPP-breakaway party People’s Movement for Democratic Change. Whatever happens, there will be a new man at the top. President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is standing down after two terms - the first marred by the war.


Five years after the end of the war, Sierra Leone remains the world’s second least developed country, and corruption runs high. Many people think the situation is unlikely to improve. “All the politicians come to campaign,” says Alfred Bollay, 61, a fisherman and builder. “But all they care for is their own enrichment. They make a lot of promises but they are not fulfilled.”

BBC NEWS | In pictures: Sierra Leone slum, Enrichment