Freetown, Sierra Leone

October 2007

Kroo Bay is a sprawling slum in the city centre of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. Home to over twenty thousand people, the shantytown sits amid mounds of mud and rubbish.

Kroo Bay’s most severe problems are water-related. On one side, there is shortage of fresh water, mainly due to the lack of rain. Public taps run infrequently and in spurts. And when they don’t, people have to buy water for their drinking and washing needs or collect it from drains, ditches or streams that might be infected and cause severe illness, like typhoid fever, diarrhoea and cholera, or death. According to the UNDP’s 2006 Human Development Report, water-related diseases were responsible for more people getting sick than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. But these diseases don’t receive the same attention and assistance.

On the other side, a greater worry in Kroo Bay is the annual rising of water during the rainy season. For five months every year people are continuously flooded with water and debris from the hills around Freetown that clog the drainage areas of the slum.

The first victims of this situation are children. There is a health clinic in Kroo Bay but few people can afford to go there because they have to pay for bedpan, surgical spirits, cotton wool and even electricity.

Kroo Bay’s destiny is woven into Sierra Leone’s future. The country is a scar on the conscience of a world which, seven years ago, promised to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015. And all the more if we consider the massive inflow of outside assistance planned since the cessation of civil war hostilities in January 2002. One of the most impressive humanitarian and aid plan ever occurred in modern history could not avoid Sierra Leone to be ranked in 2007 as the poorest country in the world, taking Niger’s spot at the very bottom of the UN’s human development index.