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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Mass burials begin for 400 Sierra Leone flood victims
By Saidu Bah
Freetown (AFP) Aug 17, 2017


Landslide kills 40 in northeast DR Congo
Bunia, Dr Congo (AFP) Aug 17, 2017 - A landslide has swept over a fishing village on the banks of a lake in the northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, killing 40 people, a regional official said Thursday.

Part of a mountain engulfed "a fisherman's camp after heavy rains caused a landslide" the deputy governor of Ituri province, Pacifique Keta, told AFP.

He said 40 people were killed in the disaster in the village of Tora on the banks of Lake Albert on Wednesday.

It follows devastating floods in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown on Monday that killed some 300 people.

"Yesterday (Wednesday), we buried 28 bodies and today we will bury 12 more," said Keta.

A doctor at the nearby Tshomia hospital, Herve Isamba, said they were treating four people injured in the landslide.

Keta said that two people were also killed Wednesday when an illegal mine flooded in the nearby Walendu Piti area.

The vast country has experienced a number of previous such disasters.

In May 2010, a mudslide that swept over the eastern village of Kibiriga killed 19 people: the bodies of 27 others were never recovered.

In February 2002, about 50 people were found dead after a wave of mud and rocks hit the eastern town of Uvira, submerging about 150 homes.

Fishing on Lake Albert is one of the main occupations in Ituri, which borders Uganda.

The province, rich in gold deposits, saw several outbreaks of violence during the Second Congo War between 1998 and 2003.

That ended with the aid of a French-led international military intervention.

The death toll from devastating floods in Sierra Leone has passed 400 with 600 people still missing in the stricken capital, the Red Cross said Friday, as Britain promised 5 million in fresh aid.

The disaster began on Monday when heavy rains hit the city and the partial collapse of a hillside triggered mudslides, engulfing homes and wreaking destruction.

"Today we are counting more than 400 people dead," the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, Elhadj As Sy, told reporters in Geneva.

Citizens and experts alike have questioned why the government has not done more to tackle illegal construction and deforestation on the outskirts of the overcrowded capital of Freetown.

An unofficial morgue estimate had previously put the toll at around 400 dead, but the figure had not been officially confirmed until Friday.

More than 300 victims were buried on Thursday in a ceremony in the nearby town of Waterloo, laid to rest alongside victims of the country's last crisis, Ebola. Around a third of them were children.

Sy said the government of the west African country was facing a crisis "way beyond (its) capacity" and appealed to the international community to significantly ramp up its support.

The displaced are still sleeping outside "because there are not enough shelters for everybody," he said.

Britain meanwhile announced 5 million ($6.45 million) in funding for several charities working on the ground, targeting children's bedding and clothing and clean water and sanitation for all victims, as well as medical supplies.

"Our new support will provide basic life-saving supplies like food, water, shelter and clothing to people who have lost everything. The international community must follow our lead and step up to the plate," said Britain's International Development Secretary Priti Patel.

The Red Cross said it will launch an emergency funding appeal later on Friday, while China has pledged $1 million, Togo $500,000, and Israel and several west African nations have contributed food and cash.

The Red Cross has warned that smaller mudslides have occurred since Monday in eastern Freetown and in Sierra Leone's second city of Bo, with the rainy season far from over.

So far evacuations have been voluntary from affected areas, which Sy said was "best practice" "Coming by force in the middle of hardship may not be the best way," he added.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, told reporters the toll "may rise" noting the number of people still missing.

Sierra Leone buried at least 300 victims of devastating floods on Thursday, as fears grew of more mudslides and accusations of government "inaction" over deforestation and poor urban planning mounted.

With the aim of clearing the overflowing central morgue, burials began around 1800 GMT in Waterloo, a nearby town where many victims of the Ebola crisis that hit the nation in 2014 were also laid to rest, according to a morgue official and an AFP journalist at the scene.

President Ernest Bai Koroma was accompanied by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose nation also lost thousands to Ebola, both wearing surgical masks as the decomposing bodies were put into the ground.

More than 100 of the dead are children.

"We will not bury our hopes," Koroma told mourners. "Sierra Leone will rise again."

On a day of mourning, a Red Cross official warned that smaller mudslides had occurred since Monday in eastern Freetown and in Sierra Leone's second city of Bo, with the rainy season far from over.

"There is a fear that more trouble is imminent," in Freetown, a coastal city of around one million people, said Adbul Nasir of the International Red Cross.

Adding to the danger, the Office of National Security, which is coordinating the government's response, was informed that a mountain which partially collapsed on Monday had cracked at another point.

Although the death toll is officially 300, rescue workers privately agree the toll is far higher, and one told AFP that in line with an unofficial morgue toll, 400 graves had been dug for the victims, who will be buried over a two-day period.

The UN has said 4,000 people are affected by the mudslides and flooding.

Idalia Amaya, emergency response coordinator for Catholic Relief Services in Freetown, said some families hit by Ebola would now be burying loved ones killed in the floods.

"People are going through a complicated grieving process... first Ebola, now the mudslides," she told AFP.

- 'No place to sleep' -

The disaster began on Monday when heavy rains hit the city and the partial collapse of a hillside triggered mudslides, engulfing homes and wreaking destruction.

Citizens and experts alike have questioned why Koroma's government has not done more to tackle illegal construction in the overcrowded capital of Freetown.

For the thousands of survivors left homeless, UN agencies distributed food and hygiene kits to those sheltering in government centres and in the homes of neighbours and family members.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 3D mapping of affected neighbourhoods was taking place around Sugar Loaf mountain, which partially collapsed on Monday, and said voluntary evacuations may extend to more areas, potentially increasing the number of displaced.

"We have no place now to sleep, only in a neighbour's house," said Abdul Bendu, in the Pentagon community, which sits directly below the devastated hilltop village of Regent.

UNICEF called the damage "unprecedented" on Thursday and warned children were at risk, while the UN humanitarian affairs office said four registration centres for unaccompanied minors had been established.

- 'Government failure' -

Others began to ask why such a tragedy was allowed to happen in the first place, given the clockwork regularity of annual flooding in Freetown.

Amnesty International said the mudslides "grimly illustrate the human cost of the government's failure to implement housing and land policies," in a statement on Thursday.

In recent years, trees have been cut down from the Western peninsular forest on Freetown's limits, with everything from shacks to mansions springing up on the slopes.

Jamie Hitchen, an expert with the Africa Research Institute, told AFP that poor urban planning had been a problem for years, but that the government response had "broadly been one of inaction".

"Particularly in the areas around Regent, construction of houses illegally is being undertaken at all levels of society with impunity," he said in an email to AFP.

Identifying deficiencies in waste management, preventing deforestation, urban planning and the provision of decent housing, Hitchen said "a problem of politics" meant that the city's drains were blocked and dump sites were full.

"There is no urban planning to speak of in the city," he added.

- Future relocation? -

The government has said that in the light of the catastrophe, "relocation and opening up of a new settlement around the Freetown peninsula" would be considered, but similar measures have failed in the past as people seek to live close to the city centre for work.

Sierra Leone, a former British colony, meanwhile received condolences from Queen Elizabeth II, who said she was "deeply saddened".

Hull, a British city which is twinned with Freetown, has launched its own aid appeal, joining foreign governments including in Guinea, Israel, Liberia, Senegal and the EU in sending food and cash to the stricken city.

DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Libyan marine rescue zone aims to 'organise' NGOs: navy
Tripoli (AFP) Aug 16, 2017
Libya is not "preventing" NGOs from carrying out migrant rescue operations off its coast, but has set up a coastal search and rescue zone to "organise" their work, its navy said Wednesday. The navy last week ordered unauthorised foreign vessels to stay out of Libya's coastal zone, a measure it said targeted NGOs carrying out search and rescue missions for migrants headed towards Europe. ... read more

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