Sierra Leone tanker disaster sounds alarm on urban risk in Africa

Author

Emmanuel Osuteye

Braima Koroma

Joseph Mustapha Macarthy

Source(s)
The New Humanitarian

A fuel tanker explosion that killed more than 130 people last week in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, has raised renewed questions over disaster preparedness in African cities and the urgent lessons that need to be learnt.

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The social construction of risk: The incident points to how people’s risk perception – and needs – can exacerbate vulnerability. Rather than treating the fuel gushing from the damaged tanker prior to the explosion as a hazard, Wellington’s residents tried to collect it as a windfall, underlining how poverty can drive dangerous behaviour.

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Readiness of medical emergency services: The volume of casualties seeking treatment – more than 100 severely burned victims – exposed a critical weakness in the preparedness of medical services.

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Road safety: Road accidents are one of the main urban risks people face. Despite this, vehicle road safety testing is a rarity in Freetown, and the roadworthiness of large trucks in particular is questionable. 

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Proactive measures to minimise future risk: There is significant scope to improve emergency response mechanisms, including how disaster information is shared and acted upon.

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