THE BLOG

Sink or Swim - Freetown's Notorious Rainy Season

29/08/2013 16:20 BST | Updated 28/10/2013 09:12 GMT

Freetown could never be described as predictable. Every day you will see things that force you to double take. A man riding at 50 mph on the bonnet of a car, a fisherman tossing a block of dynamite off the side of his wooden canoe or someone walking casually along the pavement with a hammer balanced on his head. It is has an unpredictability that can both frustrate and delight.

But one thing you thing that you can predict is that between the months of June and September it is going to be wet. August sees the peak of the rains and hosts what is etched in the city's folklore as the '7 day rain', an event that does not need much explanation. So how does one of the world's most underdeveloped cities handle these conditions?

The dark rain clouds that roll in from the Atlantic are capable of causing havoc in the city. The weather will quickly turn, forcing market traders to dash for cover as the roads rapidly become rivers. Traffic builds as drainage pipes blocked with the city's waste burst making roads impassable. This month, Jimmy Bridge, a relic from the colonial era, finally succumbed to years of attrition, collapsing with tragic consequences.

Freetown's dramatic topography is stunning, but it also adds to the problem. The city is set back into mountains leaving limited space for the cities bulging population. This has led to the growth of makeshift housing in slum areas by the water's edge. It is in these areas that the rushing rainwater, carrying with it the city's waste, ends up. In 2012 this led to a cholera epidemic claiming the lives of 392 people and triggering an emergency response from the humanitarian community.

It would be easy to blame the rains for the city's many problems, to pack up for the month and declare conditions unworkable. But that is not in Sierra Leone's nature. Instead, residents point to the rainy season's many benefits. The return of a consistent power supply from the country's hydroelectric dam is definitely at the top of most people's list. It not only means well lit evenings but also a break from the constant hum of generators. The temperature is also pleasant mid-twenties making sleeping a little easier and water supply is not an issue. Each year the city is becoming better at dealing with the rain. This month, young workers have been tirelessly clearing waste from the drains to avoid further flooding. New toilet facilities are popping up around the city to allow for better sanitation. It is no coincidence that this season has seen a massive drop in the number of cholera cases with only a handful reported in the provinces.

This positive outlook is what has carried the city over the past eleven years. In this time it has had to rebuild practically from scratch. Poor infrastructure, corruption and huge unemployment mean that whatever the weather, for the majority of the population, Freetown is a difficult place to live. But despite all the challenges, the city collectively decides not to sink but to swim.