Sierra Leone requests aid after blaze leaves 7,000 homeless

Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in the world

Sierra Leone's disaster-management agency requested aid on Monday after a fire destroyed a slum in the capital Freetown last week and left about 7,000 people homeless.

"We need help to provide shelter, food, water and clothing to victims of the fire disaster," said its acting director Sinneh Mansaray.

On March 24, a fire engulfed the Susan's Bay slum district in the capital of the West African state, destroying homes flimsily constructed from recovered materials and corrugated sheeting.

The cramped passages in the district made it impossible for fire engines to control the blaze.

No one died in the fire, according to a report released by the disaster-management agency over the weekend, but 409 people were injured and 7,093 people lost their homes.

Mansaray said the agency was supplying water to about 5,000 people, while the government has erected 53 tents for the fire victims.

But Mariama Kargbo, a widow who had lived in Susan's Bay for 20 years, said neither the government nor aid agencies were providing enough food and water.

The tents grew insufferably hot during the day, she told AFP.

"We lived a simple life in the slum with our families," she added. "Now we have to scramble for everything to survive."

Abel Onomake, secretary general of Sierra Leone's Institute of Architects, told reporters during a recent visit to the site that the fire underscored the need for "a properly planned urban settlement" in Freetown.

Sierra Leone, a diamond-rich former British colony, remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Its economy was ravaged by a 1991-2002 civil war that claimed 120,000 lives, followed by an Ebola epidemic that ran from 2014-16.

Further blows have come from a slump in global commodity prices and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.