Rescuers transfer bodies of the victims out of the site of the mudslides in Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, on Thursday. (File picture: Xinhua)

As the devastated survivors of Sierra Leone’s deadly mudslides, which killed more than 500 people last week, attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives they face the possibility of an outbreak of malaria and cholera.

The United Nations and the Sierra Leone government are working to prevent any outbreaks of diseases.

“The mudslides have caused extreme suffering and loss of life, and we must do all we can to protect the population from additional health risks,” said Alexander Chimbaru, Officer in Charge of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Sierra Leone, in a Monday press release. 

In 2014, Sama Banya, Sierra Leone’s leading conservationist, called on President Ernest Bai Koroma to enforce the National Protected Area law, which his government enacted in 2012, by demolishing buildings constructed on protected land and planting trees to replace those that had been cut down – or face dire consequence, but to no avail.

The UN continues to strengthen health services in the affected areas and has urged the population to take precautions including hand washing, drinking only boiled or treated water and adhering to hygiene practices. 

With damage to water and sanitation facilities, residents of affected areas are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of pre-existing infectious diseases including malaria and diarrheal conditions such as typhoid and cholera.

Beneath Sugar Loaf Mountain villages for newly liberated slaves were established by the British during the colonial era. Wealthier colonialists lived above the villages. Malaria was the reason for this segregation.  

Following the end of British occupation, much of the lush and protective vegetation that once covered Sugar Loaf was destroyed to make way for poor-quality building construction.

During Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s thousands of refugees from the countryside flocked to Freetown and it subsequently became harder to control where people lived or the quality of the homes they built, including a mesh of precarious shacks.

- African News Agency (ANA)