Christian Aid has today launched a public appeal for emergency funds to help the thousands of families devastated by the flooding and mudslide disaster in Sierra Leone.
As many as 3,000 people lost their homes after seasonal rains caused a landslide that submerged entire communities in Regent and the surrounding mountainous area on the outskirts of the capital Freetown.
Nearly 350 people have died, including more than 120 children. A further 600 individuals remain unaccounted for, while more than 100 people are seriously injured. More deaths are expected.
Using emergency funds, Christian Aid will work with partners in Freetown to reach 1,000 survivors of the disaster, distributing food, clean drinking water, clothing, mosquito nets, kitchen utensils and hygiene supplies – including sanitary kits for women and girls.
Christian Aid's country manager for Sierra Leone, Jeanne Kamara, said: 'Early on Monday morning a heavy downpour in Freetown triggered a deluge of devastation, as rocks, earth and mud fell on houses and buried several communities: it was like a mini volcano.
'We Sierra Leoneans are resilient people and this week our resilience has been cruelly tested, yet again. As a resident of Freetown, it breaks my heart that another tragedy is unfolding here, while we're still recovering from the deep-rooted impacts of the Ebola epidemic. We are going from emergency to emergency, and this is wreaking untold emotional, physical and psychological damage.
'The mood here this week is sombre and sober, and as I speak the rains are threatening again. Communities, faith groups, aid agencies and government agencies are working hard, but there are still a lot of gaps: a lot of people are using inappropriate make-shift shelters.
'We sent out a team to assess the situation and register those who need help: what we've seen are lots of people who are homeless, who are confused, distressed and traumatised, and who will need lots of psycho-social support.'
She added: 'I spoke to a group of women who said they and their surviving family members have no clothes, no underwear, no sanitary kits: everything that they owned has gone. People have nothing, not even a pair of slippers on their feet to make their way to some of the local registration centres.
'They are now extremely vulnerable, especially women and children. School resumes in about a month's time and many surviving children have lost all their uniforms and school materials. That's why we are working around the clock, with our partners here in Freetown, to make sure help gets to those who need it most.
'In our initial response, our partners here will be distributing food and other essential items, such as malaria nets and basic household items. Our partners will, as always, work alongside community leaders, faith leaders and traditional leaders, so we can capitalise on their local knowledge and experience of their communities.'
Homeless families are currently sheltering in schools, community halls, churches, mosques and other public buildings. The government is expected to announce long-term plans to house displaced families.
Christian Aid's relief programme will focus on locations in Freetown that are expected to receive less support from state bodies and aid organisations.