The recent swearing-in of the reelected Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr, and her deputy presents a pivotal moment for our capital. As they step into office from the opposition All Peoples Congress Party, it’s imperative to acknowledge that blame games won’t resolve our city’s challenges. Now is not the time to dwell on past altercations with the ruling SLPP central government. Instead, it’s crucial for all stakeholders to turn a new page and prioritize the welfare of Freetown’s people.
Freetown, the beating heart of Sierra Leone, faces a multitude of critical issues. A new report by the World Bank Group, the Freetown Urban Sector Review: Options for Growth and Resilience, emphasizes the urgency of addressing these challenges. If Freetown is to transform into a resilient city capable of spearheading economic growth, crucial policy decisions need to be made.
The rapid but uncoordinated expansion has made Freetown one of the world’s most densely populated cities. Regrettably, this growth lacked coherent urban planning, resulting in a scarcity of affordable housing and the unchecked proliferation of informal slums.
Freetown’s basic services like water, sanitation, and electricity fall considerably below Sub-Saharan African urban standards. Sanitation, in particular, is dire, with only 30% of households having access to improved facilities. The uneven distribution of schools and healthcare centres further compounds this issue. Inadequate solid waste management obstructs drainage systems and ensures that we suffer from severe floods annually.
Moreover, unplanned urban sprawl is intensifying disaster risk by encroaching on vulnerable areas such as flood plains and mountainous regions. This unregulated expansion exacerbates the threat of landslides and flooding, as witnessed in the mudslide at Sugar Loaf Mountain in 2017, resulting in the loss of lives and extensive economic damage.
The challenges, from deficient drainage systems to inadequate housing rights in informal settlements, demand immediate attention. The complex problems facing Freetown require a united effort, transcending political divides, to implement transformative solutions.
The path to Freetown’s transformation lies in collaborative action. It’s time for all stakeholders, regardless of political affiliations, to prioritize the city’s needs above all else. Let’s work together to tackle these pressing issues, investing in coherent urban planning, bolstering basic services, and fortifying the city’s resilience against disasters.
The road ahead may be challenging, but with unified determination and a shared commitment to Freetown’s prosperity, we can build a city that not only flourishes but also becomes a beacon of hope and progress for Sierra Leone.
Now is the time to set differences aside and put Freetown first. The welfare of our city and its people must stand above all other considerations.