'Help us upgrade, don't evict us': Sierra Leone's slum dwellers battle for their homes | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

By: Kieran Guilbert
Date: November 1st 2016
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

FREETOWN (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When floods struck several slums across Sierra Leone's capital last year, 55-year-old Amienata Bangura was forced to flee as her small shop, stock and years of savings were wiped out.

A year after her life was washed away, Bangura has reopened her business in Freetown's Colbot slum, and earned enough to send her grandchildren to school. But still she lives in fear.

Amid widespread criminality, the menace of disease and the perpetual risk of heavy rain, it is the threat of eviction from their corrugated steel and tarpaulin shacks that hangs heaviest over tens of thousands of slum dwellers like Bangura.

"I worry a lot about being evicted," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, perched on a yellow jerrycan outside her shop. "This is where I have built my home, and formed a family."

Living on stretches of state-owned land along the shore, a lack of land tenure for Freetown's slum residents mean they feel powerless to improve their homes and communities - wary that the government could kick them off the land without any warning.

Too poor to move elsewhere in a city where untouched land is scarce, many slum dwellers live in filthy, overcrowded conditions, far from toilets or clean water, and lack access to electricity, drainage systems and waste collection services.

Fearful of floods and epidemics like the Ebola outbreak, which ravaged the West African nation in 2014, the state has repeatedly threatened to evict slum dwellers in recent years.

But the government is now considering a new land policy, drafted last year, which would rule out forced evictions of slum dwellers and address their current lack of land security.

However, the state is wavering between two options: developing the slums or relocating its inhabitants, according to Francis Anthony Reffell, manager of the Slum Livelihood Project at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Freetown.

"The message from the slum dwellers is clear," he said. "Upgrade wherever possible, and relocate only where necessary."

STUCK IN THE SLUMS

One of the world's poorest countries, Sierra Leone is still recovering from civil war and the world's worst Ebola outbreak.

Freetown's population surged during the 1991-2002 civil war, when people rushed there to seek refuge. Poverty and a lack of housing forced many to live in slums in a city where the number of inhabitants is set to double to nearly two million by 2030.

"It is a big challenge being a woman here - (and) not having any privacy," said Umu Jalloh, 34, a mother-of-three, explaining how women have to queue for hours to use the communal toilets and collect water from the few taps dotted around Colbot slum.

Yet most dwellers say they are unwilling or unable to leave, as their lives, families and jobs, often in petty trade or fishing, are tied to the slums they consider to be their own.

"If we leave, or are removed from the slums, frustration and pain will be a killer," said Colbot's female community chief Yo Thoronka, frowning as she watched pigs feed from litter-strewn puddles outside her home. "A lot of deaths would follow."

Torrential rains in Freetown in September 2015 killed four people, injured scores and forced thousands to flee their slums and seek refuge in the national football stadium.

But with no other options, slum dwellers like Bangura returned as quickly as possible.

"They don't think about what is coming tomorrow ... they cannot afford to", said Jalikatu Cotay-Jalloh, director of the Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA), which supports slum communities across the nation.

"They think: 'Today I have something to eat, today I have a roof over my head'."

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Related content: 

The human settlements goal measures the proportion of people living in households who do not meet one of the five following housing conditions: (1) access to improved water; (2) access to improved sanitation facilities; (3) sufficient-living area (not overcrowded); (4) durable housing; (5) and security of tenure.

Indicator 11.1.1 uses the following as a guide: “By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”

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