Sierra Leone, Africa
In Sierra Leone, heat drives multiple climate-related threats. In urban areas like Freetown, heat amplifies the negative health impacts of air pollution, which often contribute to respiratory and circulatory system illnesses. The construction materials common in Freetown absorb and later radiate heat, generating an urban heat island effect that increases the likelihood of heat-related illness and mortality. The city’s growing population and high demand for housing have led to a rise in the construction of informal settlements, which often experience higher temperatures and heat indices than other areas.
From a distance, Kroo Bay, a slum in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, resembles a gigantic overheating engine: Thousands of rust-colored tin shacks stand in rows under the sweltering West African sun, divided only by trash-filled streams of sewage.
Freetown, like many cities around the world, is increasingly threatened by dangerous temperatures. Extreme heat exposure in thousands of cities nearly tripled between 1983 and 2016, affecting 1.7 billion people. The health risk of extreme heat is highly unequal and severely impacts the urban poor more than any other demographic.
Living in Heat
“It’s warm, warm, warm,” says Mariama Barrie, a 34-year-old mother of three who rents a one-room hut in the heart of the poverty-stricken district. “It feels like we’re being cooked alive. We’re cooking like pigs in here.” Barrie, who sells homemade charcoal for income, says she suffers from chest pains and breathing difficulties due to the heat, particularly during Sierra Leone’s scorching December-to-April dry season when temperatures can soar above 104°F (40°C).
“I don’t understand why it’s happening,” says Barrie, shaking her head when asked if she knows what climate change is. “But I know it’s getting warmer.”
MEER will work with Freetown City Council's heat officer, Eugenia Kargbo. Rising temperatures are already killing people in the city, says Kargbo, who is planning how best to protect the hundreds of thousands living in informal settlements. "We are excited at the prospect of MEER bringing something unique to help people cope with the extreme heat."