Sierra Leone, still recovering
from the civil war that engulfed it from 1991 to 2002, is highly vulnerable to environmental and public health disasters.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak that crept in from the neighbouring Guinea infected thousands and killed nearly 4,000 people in the country, leaving an indelible mark both on the nation’s collective psyche as well as its economy. The landslide and floods that followed in 2017 led to more than a thousand deaths and caused millions of dollars of destruction in Freetown. More recently, in 2021, even as Sierra Leone coped with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a fire disaster in Susan’s Bay
left more than 1,000 people homeless in the capital city.
On the World Risk Index 2020,
Sierra Leone rates 48th among 181 nations, recording high scores for vulnerability, susceptibility, and lack of coping capacities. And while it has made progress in its crisis-responsiveness since the first Ebola outbreak—moving three points down to a more favourable spot on the World Risk Index from its 2019 position; and launching the National Disaster Management Agency in 2020—there remains much to be done to strengthen the disaster-preparedness in this nation of 8 million.
Tie u Orja comes into being against this background. Led by the researchers at Bournemouth University (UK)
, and drawing from the Global Challenges Research Fund, it builds on the capacity-building initiatives that we have undertaken in Nepal
, Senegal, and Sierra Leone itself.
The project will contribute to Sierra Leone’s ongoing efforts to improve its disaster resilience—specifically, our focus is to strengthen crisis communication, which we see as a crucial link that interconnects disasters, disaster communities, and disaster management.
Tie u Orja
For the title of our project, we borrow from Krio.
The phrase ‘tie u orja’ refers to tying or tightening your ‘orja’, the piece of clothing that goes over the traditional African wrapper to hold it firm. Orja is part of the traditional outfit of the Yoruba people. It forms part of Sierra Leone’s ethnicity; mothers who carry babies on their backs often add the orja for additional protection. Tying the orja, thus, symbolises preparedness—the act of fortifying oneself to face a difficult time.
Such preparedness, as we know, is critical to withstand crisis situations. Effective communication on the part of journalists, crisis managers, and non-governmental stakeholders can save lives, through accurate public messaging, holding power to account, aiding national recovery processes, and strengthening the resilience of affected communities.
Our objectives, over the course of this project, is to work with disaster managers and journalists to understand their communicative challenges
, and contribute to the process of building capacity in this area.
Research and capacity-building
Tie u Orja interlaces three strands of activity across a short span of seven months.
The research strand, ongoing since January 2021, is aimed at assessing the level of disaster-preparedness among journalists and communicators in Sierra Leone. This involves a national survey to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the news media and the training requirements of journalists, followed by structured interviews with journalists and public disaster communicators.
The journalism strand, to run from May 2021, seeks to create a conversation on disaster communication among key stakeholders. As part of this, in collaboration with journalists, journalism students, and media educators in Sierra Leone, we will publish content relevant to the reportage and public messaging on disaster events. A key objective here is to present a resource base that sheds light on the nuances within disaster communication.
The capacity-building strand, which overlaps with the above phase, is designed to support public communicators, journalists, and media educators, and help strengthen their preparedness and communicative responses to disasters. Underpinned by the research strand, and developed in consultation with industry stakeholders, it will comprise training workshops and dissemination events.
Watch this space for more, as Tie u Orja evolves.
Should you be interested in being part of this project, please write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org