Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s COVID-19 response efforts in Freetown highlighted by Chatham House magazine

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a calamitous effect on cities around the world, exacerbating pre-existing issues in many urban areas. In response, some municipal leaders and experts have found innovative solutions that aim to improve the lives of residents not only during the pandemic, but for future generations.  

An article in the latest issue of The World Today, Chatham House’s monthly global affairs magazine, highlighted Amujae Leader Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, for her work coordinating her city’s response to COVID-19. 

The article said that Mayor Aki-Sawyerr “saw the pandemic as a chance to accelerate her modernizing agenda”—Transform Freetown—a three-year vision for Freetown’s development. 

Drawing upon her experience helping plan Sierra Leone’s response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014–2015, one of Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s first actions when COVID-19 hit was installing Veronica Buckets—hand washing mechanisms that work in the absence of running water—outside markets, schools, and health centers. The increased need for hand washing also expedited the city’s plan to install rainwater harvesting tanks throughout informal settlements. There are now 160 tanks in place, which will continue to serve residents and help conserve water after the pandemic ends.  

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr also found a way to combine COVID-19 solutions with Transform Freetown’s long-term sustainability and environmental goals when she “pushed ahead last year with her scheme to plant a million trees.” Today, “nearly 300,000 seedlings have been planted with more scheduled for the rainy season.” This “greening strategy can also create extra income for residents affected by the economic fallout from the pandemic,” the article explained. 

The Freetown City Council’s COVID-19 response measures also included supplying vulnerable populations with vegetable plants so that people could sustain themselves through lockdowns and beyond. Once the pandemic is over, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr hopes urban farming will be expanded across Freetown “to provide more food security, particularly as the average household spends most of its money on food.”

Read the full article by Helen Fitzwilliam, ‘After COVID-19, the city’s rebirth,’ to learn more about the work being done by Mayor Aki-Sawyerr and other city leaders and urban planning experts.

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