The 3 challenges in building urban resilience in Freetown

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Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city, dominates the country’s urban landscape. But in order for Freetown to transform into a more resilient city, better prepared to lead the country’s economic growth, critical policy choices need to be made to tackle a series of challenges.  This is a key message of the Freetown Urban Sector Review: Options for Growth and Resilience, a new report released today by the World Bank Group.

Firstly, its growth has been rapid but fragmented, making it one of the most crowded cities in the world. Between 1975 and 2015, approximately 80% of the city’s expansion was towards the center of the peninsula along the road towards Hastings and Waterloo. This growth has not been guided by coherent urban planning, with a scarcity of affordable housing leading to the rapid proliferation of informal slums.


Secondly, Freetown struggles to provide its citizens with adequate access to basic services like water, sanitation and electricity, which are systematically below Sub-Saharan African standards for urban areas. The problem is acute for sanitation, where only 30% of households have access to improved sanitation and only 75% have access to improved water. Access to other services such as schools and health centers are also unevenly spread throughout the city. Solid waste management remains a major challenge, blocking drainage systems and contributing to increased flood risk.

Thirdly, disaster risk is increasing, as unplanned and unregulated urban sprawl continues to cut into the mountains of the peninsula and along flood plains and exposed coastal areas. This is leading to increased landslide and flood risk, as people continue to build in harm’s way, and the forests and mangroves that once served as natural defenses to hazards are being rapidly destroyed. This was demonstrated in 2017, with the unprecedented impact of landslide and flooding which led to over 1,000 people dead or missing, and an estimated economic loss of over US$30 million.

In this video blog series on Adaptation and Resilience as part of our Sustainable Communities blog series, we’ll explore how these three challenges can be addressed.

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