Torrential rains across the country on Tuesday flooded the Waterloo market and left many wares, stores and stalls destroyed.

Waterloo Area

The natural disaster has urged officials at the Office of National Security (ONS) to warn traders to abandon the market facility and its environs for the moment.

Waterloo is the headquarters of the Western Area Rural District and the market serves communities in Freetown, Tombo, York, Songo, Newton, Masiaka, among many others.

Over the years, environmental experts have warned authorities of the Waterloo Council to relocate the market because it is situated in swampy terrain and that it could one day submerge in heavy rains.

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The incident on Tuesday vindicates the prediction of environmental experts, even as their advise was not heeded by Council authorities.

Chairlady of the Waterloo Market Women Association, Hannah Thullah, in a mobile phone interview with Concord Times, said that the heavy rains destroyed many goods, stores and stalls of traders.

Ms Thullah, when quizzed if this was the first time they were experiencing such flooding at the market, disclosed that it was not the first time but that the incident on Tuesday was the worst in the history of the market. She added that they have been complaining to the Western Area Rural District Council authorities to see how they could salvage the situation even before the disaster struck.

“Few years ago we had to contribute some amount of money to buy truck load of stones to bank the swampy areas that we considered a threat to human lives in the market. This is a waterish environment and it is not suitable for us, but the authorities have been taking a snail-pace to address the problem,” she said.

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The Risk Reduction and Response Officer of the Disaster Management Department and Risk Reduction in the Office of National Security, Nathaniel Kaiba Kamara, said the Waterloo market was under considerable. He recalled that two weeks ago, they had a meeting at the Waterloo market community with officials of the council, the Environment Protection Agency, Waterloo and Lumpa village heads, among other stakeholders, and that they sensitised on looming danger if the traders do not quit the current location.

“We showed them the risk around the market facility, the risk of disease outbreak and the water that settles in and around the market facility. The market facility has been identified as one of the areas within the Waterloo community that is at risk of disaster. The market people should know that now,” he said and added that they also told them what precautionary measures to take while still at the current location.

Asked if the ONS had informed Council authorities about the risk market people face while still occupying the facility, he said they were part of the process as council chairs the district security committee in the Western Area Rural District.

He disclosed that as a policy ONS does not talk about relocation but evacuation and now that they have identified threats to the market community, traders have been warned to evacuate the area at the moment so that lives and properties will not be lost if flooding occurs.

However, Chief Administrator of the Western Area Rural District Council, popularly called Waterloo Council, Ahmed Shekuba Koroma, argued that people could only be evacuated to another location, adding added that such requires all relevant stakeholders to meet and decide what they should do for the traders.

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He noted that the original market location was not swampy and that traders abandoned the original market and constructed stalls in a swampy area. He added that they have even constructed stalls and permanent houses along the drainage where the water flows.

“Because of that, year in-year out flooding takes place in and around the market facility. I have personally told the council to relocate the people but it requires all the stakeholders in the district, especially the village heads, to identify a land space for them. If we have secured the land, we would now deep into our own source revenue to start the construction process of a new market,” he said adding that such decision is not immediate because it requires a lot of planning.

He disclosed that the council engineer recently conducted a survey of the market community and that council decided to put granite stones around at the moment, after a similar move last year, though the stones were buried in the mud subsequently.

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“The place where the traders have constructed stalls and houses is a swamp land and anytime that it rains it gets flooded. The original market facility has never flooded but the traders have abandoned it. Even the old road and foot paths which were left for commuters and passers-by have been overtaken by the traders,” he stated.

He said if council decides to demolish the stalls and permanent structures, traders’ means of livelihood could be put at stake, with a possible backlash from residents. He added that it’s a complex situation, but the council was making efforts to ensure that the right decision is taken to protect the lives and property of traders.