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A plan to improve sanitation in Sierra Leone through public education

21 September 2015 at 12:40 | 1625 views

Going down Memory Lane

This article was first published 25 December 2007.

On November 7, 2007, the SALONEDiscussion Think Tank Committee authorized the delivery of a compendium of recommendations to President Ernest Koroma. The recommendations addressed ways to restore the value of the Leone, and electricity, water and sanitation services to SL. This newspaper will be serializing the four chapters of the compendium. Today, we publish the chapter of the compendium dealing with the restoration of adequate sanitation services in Freetown, the capital of SL.

By Adeyemi Coker, Adrian Q. Labor, Sheikh Tunis and Gibril Koroma.

Highlights of Plan

Goal: To gradually eradicate the deplorable and unhealthy sanitation conditions in Sierra Leone (SL) within the next five years.

Key to Success: Launch a five-year public education campaign to complement efforts to implement a sustainable waste management system in SL.

Actions Needed

- Conduct and complete research on the existing City Clean Campaign with the goal of incorporating ideas from the Diaspora and inside SL to solve the sanitation problem.

- Write and produce an audio-visual public education campaign, similar to the successful 1971 campaign to launch the changeover to right-hand driving, which will be disseminated throughout the city, and subsequently, the entire country. The campaign will utilize pubic service announcements featuring local artists, musicians and other celebrities.

- Revive the Waste Management Warden Program to ensure that the various communities are complying with efforts to maintain a clean city. This would generate employment opportunities and added revenue from fines levied against violators of the City Ordinance. The program would be reactivated nationally, starting in the Western Area and expanding to the provinces.

- Obtain approval from the SL government and the office of the Mayor of Freetown to launch the campaign.

- Secure financing for the $11 million budget (distributed over five years) needed to launch and fully implement the project.

- Maintain the project for five years and phase it out gradually starting from the fourth year.

Potential Funding Sources: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and other reputable philanthropic individuals and foundations and financial institutions that have lent their financial resources to worthy causes. It is recommended that this initiative solicit partnership with an existing US based non-profit organization with a 501(3) c status. This would be attractive to potential donors, as they would benefit from tax incentives.


The general purpose of this report includes a definition of the fundamental problem of a lack of proper sanitation in SL, with particular reference to the capital, Freetown. The report also assesses the impact of the sanitation problem upon the development of SL. In addition, the report sets forth a proposed solution to the sanitation problem in Freetown, including its costs and benefits, that is intended to complement planned infrastructural initiatives that directly address the sanitation problem. The report concludes with a timetable for implementation and the specification of an evaluation mechanism to measure the effectiveness of the proposed initiative.

1.The Nature and Extent of the Sanitation Problem in SL.

The need for a proper sanitation system exists throughout SL, and it demands immediate attention from all concerned. However, while the focus of this report is on the sanitation problem in the over-populated capital city of Freetown, the solution proposed can be replicated in other major cities in SL.

During the 1991-2002 war, many Sierra Leoneans from the then volatile provincial regions sought refuge in Freetown. Unfortunately, the city was unprepared for the mass migration. The result has been a population explosion in the capital. This over-population has contributed to the escalation of a longstanding plethora of social and civic problems, including unhealthy sanitation conditions. The construction of squatter camps including shanty houses made from corrugated iron (CI) sheets, non-existent town planning and poor urban design have all contributed to the exacerbation of what was already a dilapidated municipality. The most common evidence of this urban disarray can be seen in the abundance of overflowing garbage dumps indiscriminately scattered around the city.

The improper collection and disposal of garbage, in particular, and the poor city sanitation infrastructure, in general, have created added pollution to the environment. In Freetown, especially, these conditions have increased the threats to vulnerable segments of the population, including people with severe respiratory problems such as coughs and asthma. Particularly vulnerable are elderly residents and children, some of whom are afflicted with facial inflammations, cysts and a host of other undetected maladies. The toll of such a widespread problem on the economic development of SL can hardly be overestimated. The need for urgent remedial action has never been greater.

Many initiatives to combat the sanitation crisis have been challenged by either non-cooperation from the successive political administrations or the lack of much-needed funding. In February 2004, David Sood, a World Bank consultant, submitted a draft report to the SL government entitled "Solid Waste Management Study for Freetown, Sierra Leone" that laid bare the vast scope of the sanitation problem in Freetown. In the report, Sood opined, "[s]olid waste management is much more than refuse collection and disposal. Wastes such as derelict vehicles, medical, toxic and hazardous wastes pose special problems." ( p.7). It is this broad definition of the scope of the sanitation problem which is adopted in this report.

2. The Impact of Inadequate Sanitation in Freetown

The impact of poor sanitation is literally evident on the garbage-strewn streets and clogged drains of Freetown. Stagnant water in clogged gutters, petty traders selling food next to piles of garbage, children roaming through garbage dumps in the city scavenging next to pigs for food, are all common sights on any given day in Freetown. These environmental hazards are already causing undiagnosed maladies among the vast underprivileged class of society, threatening a health emergency that the country is ill prepared to handle.

The potentially lethal consequence of poor sanitation in Freetown is evident in the serious risk it poses to the health of Sierra Leoneans and that of the SL economy. Moreover, due to the risk that poor sanitation holds in regard to the physical well being of Sierra Leoneans, it also poses a risk, ultimately, to the life of every Sierra Leonean living in unsanitary conditions. Therefore, it is through its adverse impact on the health of Sierra Leoneans — and the attendant direct costs of heath care and indirect costs in the form of lost or low productivity — that poor sanitation poses a significant threat to the economic development of Sierra Leone.

3. A Recommended Solution to Improve Sanitation in Freetown

There are myriad proposals for resolving the poor sanitation system in circulation, mostly focusing on waste management. For instance, in January 2007, the Youth Awareness Club (YAC) at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, commemorated the college’s 180th anniversary by launching a "City Cleanup Campaign." The Mayor of Freetown, Hon. Winstanley Bankole Johnson, has published the City Council’s Blueprint for effective local governance, and the Environmental Rescue Movement (ERM) has also launched its initiative to assist in the efforts directed at waste management.

To avoid wastefully duplicating these and other waste management efforts, this report proposes an education campaign aimed at improving and maintaining proper sanitation conditions in the nation. The campaign will utilize all forms of media to reach the general public affected by this growing hazard. A paradigm shift is needed in our nation and through a proper education campaign, we can bring about the much-needed change in the mentality of the average Sierra Leonean that is required for the long term success of waste management efforts.

Proposed Implementation

It is imperative that any initiative undertaken by the Diaspora should work in concert with the Sierra Leoneans inside the country. This would pre-empt any misinterpretation of the Diaspora effort as designed to usurp local efforts. While the already existing proposals are being reviewed for possible implementation, the proposed public education campaign could be launched, starting with the city center in Freetown, and gradually moving into surrounding areas and the provincial regions.

This initiative will entail the following phases:

- Conduct and complete research on the existing City Clean Campaign. This would enable us to incorporate ideas from the Diaspora and locally in SL.

- Write and produce an advertisement or promotional campaign that would be disseminated throughout the city, and subsequently, the entire country. This campaign would include public service announcements that would utilize local talents and celebrities

- Revive the Waste Management Warden Program to ensure that the various communities are complying with efforts to maintain a clean city. This would create employment opportunities and generate additional revenue for the Freetown City Council from fines levied against violators of the City Ordinance. The reactivation of this program will be nationwide, starting in the Western Area, and expanding with the dispatch of wardens to the provincial areas.

The launching of this campaign will be contingent upon approval from the current administration and the office of the Mayor of Freetown.

Secure financing of the $11 million budget (distributed over five years) needed to launch and fully implement the project.

The project will run for five years. Its gradual phasing out will commence in the fourth year.


The projected estimate for a five-year project is approximately $11 million, as detailed in the attached spreadsheet. The projected budget will support a five-year initiative, with its gradual phasing out commencing in the fourth year. Contingency allocations are posted for each year to attend to reasonably anticipated emergencies such as worker-related injuries, healthcare needs, etc. At the close of the fifth year, money saved under contingency plans will add to the severance packages for workers who cannot transition into any other areas of employment. The budget makes provision for an annual Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) of 5%. Salary increases will be determined by the project’s management team. All salaries will be paid in local currency ( Leones).

The public education campaign will utilize local talent to write and produce its segments. Equipment rentals will include camera(s), sound equipment, lighting, and editing facilities. The most recent digital technology will be utilized in an effort to minimize costs. The crew will be comprised of camera operator(s), sound recorder, gaffers (lighting) and an editor/mixer.


The public education campaign will be a critical element in the necessary effort to effect the much-needed shift in the attitudes of the residents of Freetown towards their civic responsibility to keep the city clean. Launching the campaign through all available media will set the stage for returning Sierra Leoneans to a culture of belief in the value of maintenance, not only in the area of sanitation but in all aspects of Sierra Leonean public and private life. Taking the campaigns to schools, churches, mosques, community centers, etc., will duly emphasize the message being broadcast through electronic media. This initiative will create employment for an estimated 616 currently unemployed Sierra Leoneans. Significantly, the benefits will transcend these individuals and their families to include the SL government, which would collect income taxes, and the economy at large, which would benefit from the increase in consumer demand resulting from spending by the gainfully employed Sierra Leoneans. In short, the result will be a significant boost to SL’s economy.

Evaluation Mechanism

The most effective means to measure the progress of this initiative is to assess the sanitation conditions in Freetown after its implementation compared to those prior to its implementation. As this project would be launched in conjunction with the waste management initiatives from other interested entities, the combined initiatives are expected to produce concerted results. Within the first year, a 50% reduction in loitering and filth is anticipated. In particular, its should be possible to measure the impact of the citation and punishment of those residents not complying with the City’s Ordinance under the reinstated Warden’s Program to determine if it has resulted in a return to community compliance. The success of the project would also be attested if residents of Freetown demonstrate the much-needed shift in thinking that is necessary for the self-sustaining success of the city’s waste management efforts.


As noted above, the proposed initiative will cost a total $11 million over five years, averaging about $2,200,000 per year. This initiative is particularly well-timed in view of the current global campaign to adopt the Kyoto Accord and the efforts of many proponents of global warming to encourage the funding of waste management programs. In addition, the initiative finds support in the general goals of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal for 2010. Sanitation through an educational campaign will fall under the category of a developmental initiative, thereby qualifying it for appropriate funding.

Potential funding sources for this project include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, as well as reputable philanthropic individuals, foundations and financial institutions that have lent their financial resources to similar causes. It is recommended that this initiative solicit partnership with an existing USA-based non-profit organization with a 501(3) c status. This would be attractive to potential donors as they would benefit from tax incentives.

Photo:Health and Sanitation minister, Dr. Soko Kabia.