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Sierra Leone News: Communities need to be involved – SLURC

“The urban poor in Freetown have been affected by the cumulative impact of a series of humanitarian emergencies which include civil war, cholera, flooding and Ebola.” While the humanitarian sector operating in the urban areas are recognising the role of community groups in responding to and mitigating risk affecting the urban poor, the role that urban humanitarian response play in empowering urban marginalised group to affect urban change has however been a point of concern to the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC).
The Centre, on Friday 12 January 2018, published a working paper on ‘Exploring the role of empowerment in urban humanitarian response”.
The working paper uses the Portee-Rokupa community as a case study. This community is two of three communities found under Constituency 116 in the east part of Freetown. This constituency has a total population of 54,326.
According to the Consulting Project Manager of the Centre, Ibrahim Deen Kamara, most communities are recognised when there is an emergency as that is when they are called for representation.
The purpose of the study was to look at how the responses are associated with building the capacity of these communities so that it is not just a question of the immediate response to the crisis, but also a question of building the resilience of the communities to cope with some of these crisis whenever they happen again.
The research approach shed light on three main analytical domain: firstly, it looked at stakeholders perception of the potential and actual empowerment outcomes generated by urban humanitarian response; the role that humanitarian response has played in drawing, strengthening or weakening assets available to Portee-Rokupa’s community groups to pursue empowerment outcomes; and the way within which policy and panning environment affect the relationship between humanitarian responses and the empowerment of urban poor groups in Freetown.
The study shows that humanitarian responses can hinder communities’ access of empowerment assets as was the case with the quarantines implemented by the national government in Portee-Rokupa, which restricted human rights and freedom of movement, fosters government mistrust and fractured social cohesion within communities.
Also, while the current policy framework mentions that humanitarian responses can create opportunities for community empowerment, in practice, this is still far from becoming institutionalised. Community based disaster management committees are referred as a means to do this however they are set up with the scope of information dissemination and at best to coordinate efforts locally , rather than creating meaning spaces for dialogue and participation.
Ibrahim Turay, the Chairman of Office of National Security (ONS) Disaster Management Committee at Rokupa said members of the committee are community members who have volunteered to help manage disaster in those communities.
He affirmed that these committee members during a crisis they embark on sensitising communities on how to address the issues. They function as the first point of call when an outbreak occurs in a community, warn community members where there is a risk and report to the ONS. He said however that these committee members are not paid.
SLURC has therefore called for a reframe of the role of community participation in urban humanitarian responses. This is because policy framework that humanitarian responses can create opportunities for community empowerment is still far from being institutionalised.
SLURC further stated that if crises are to be seen as opportunities to renegotiate power imbalances, then community participation in humanitarian response need to be framed not merely as a mechanism of implementation of predefined initiatives but as a process of supporting and strengthening community empowerment. EBD/15/1/18
By Edna Browne-Dauphine
Tuesday January 16, 2018.

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