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Sierra Leone: Freetown residents build homes on the sea

Freetown residents building on seafront   -  
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Sierra Leone

Squashed between the mountain slopes and the Atlantic Ocean, impoverished residents of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, are running out of space to build their homes.

In desperation, they are constructing houses on land "reclaimed" from the sea in a process know there as “banking”.

This involves piling up layers of tyres, rubbish, and sacks of earth on the water’s edge, packing the ballast with mud, and then building their homes on top.

As the population in the capital grows, it’s estimated that one-third of its 1.5 million residents now live in slums.

"It's here I’ve built my shack house because I don't have the opportunity to buy and build one elsewhere. It's here I'm managing my life with no problem," said Lamrana Bah, a resident of Cockle Bay.

The Federation of Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP), a community-based organisation, estimates some 198,000 people live in its seafront settlements.

But the illegal construction methods they are using come with great risks.

"We’ve witnessed over 15 fire incidents leading to the loss of lives and houses burnt down. And the flooding occurs during the rains, and during the dry season most of the drainage canals are blocked with garbage," said Nancy Sesay, a resident of Susan's Bay.

Their unauthorised homes also face other problems ranging from lack of water and sewage systems to the lack of access roads which makes it hard for ambulances or fire trucks to arrive in emergencies.

Freetown’s population mushroomed during the decade-long civil war, when the city was seen as safe haven.

“So most people migrated from the rural areas to Freetown and over time the population increased. And that's actually had a whole lot of increased demand for housing and that resulted in people inhabiting some of those coastal settlements," said Braima Koroma, the director of research at Sierra Leone’s Urban Research Centre.

But with rising sea levels due to climate change expected to force millions of people to move further inland, Freetown’s mayor says the solution is to create more economically attractive destinations for people outside the city.

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