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Freetown has just appointed a collaborator dedicated to combating the extreme heat which increasingly overwhelms the capital of Sierra Leone. Eugenia Kargbo, one of the first to hold such a post in Africa, intends to involve the official partners, but also the disadvantaged communities, the most exposed.
The city council of Freetown, tropical capital of one of the poorest countries in the world, appointed Eugenia Kargbo « Chief Heat Officer » (heat manager) in October, imitating Miami (United States) or Athens. “Cities are the most affected by the effects of extreme heat. Freetown is no exception ”, she specifies in her office at the municipality.
“We are currently witnessing spectacular changes in climate models, we are experiencing dry seasons. [typiquement de décembre à avril] longer and shorter rainy seasons, with extreme heat, including during the rainy season and at night, which was not the case before ”, she notes.
At the edge of the Atlantic, Freetown has already undertaken in 2020 with the support of the United Nations and an American Catholic organization to plant a million trees in three years. Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, a finance professional who graduated in London and once distinguished by her commitment to the Ebola epidemic (2014-2016), has pledged to transform the capital of more than one million inhabitants which made her the first woman elected as its head in 2018.
“Present a strategy”
The restoration of a degraded environment and the sanitation of a city where half of the citizens do not have access to running water are among its major projects.
Eugenia Kargbo, 34, previously employed in sanitation and job creation for young people through green entrepreneurship, intends to help carry out the project to transform Freetown into Treetown (the tree city). About half of the planned million trees have already been planted, underlines the municipality.
The municipality is developing old landfills into green spaces and restructuring the overcrowded shanty towns where a third of the inhabitants live. Eugenia Kargbo must now formulate the anti-heat policy of the city where the temperature can be around 40 degrees during the dry season and where the humidity is high.
Holder of an MBA in entrepreneurship from the University of Milan (Italy) obtained after studies in social sciences, she entered professional life as an account manager in a West African bank in the capital of Sierra Leone. His new role “Is to work with local and international partners and government agencies to present a strategy against the heat”, she specifies.
Heatwave, floods, landslides
She wants to involve the most vulnerable. “Informal settlements are the most affected by the extreme heat because we live there in houses that are not up to standard”, she says. This is to help populations face the heat wave, but also floods or landslides, she adds.
The contemporary history of Freetown has been marked by hardship, like the former British colony, which was still recovering from a brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002 and from the Ebola epidemic when it was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2017, a massive landslide after days of heavy rains left hundreds of people dead in the suburbs of Freetown. In November, an accidental explosion of a tanker truck killed nearly 150 people.
Eugenia Kargbo paid particular attention to the recent COP26 climate conference. “What was important to me was hearing many people from different parts of the world talking about climate injustice, says the mother of two. The cities and countries of the South contribute the least to emissions, but they are the ones that are most affected. “
The answer to “Climate change is an emergency. It takes a collective effort. These are Freetown, Sierra Leone, the African continent, the whole world. We are threatened. We must act quickly and together ”, she concludes.
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In Sierra Leone, Freetown wants to fight the extreme heat by involving the poorest