Volunteers at the Ebola/Mudslide victims' cemetery at Pa Loko village in the outskirts of Waterloo, Western Area Rural District, have expressed fear that rampant illegal sand mining currently taking place nearby could have far-reaching negative impact on the sacred ground.
The cemetery is where Ebola and mudslide victims were buried between 2014 and 2015, and 2017, respectively.
At the moment, there is rampant illegal sand mining beneath the sea bed closed to the cemetery.
In an interview on Sunday (28th January) with Abubakarr Bangura and Abdulai Sesay - two volunteers at the cemetery - said sand miners are mining very close to the cemetery.
Both volunteers noted that they don't have the authority to stop sand miners as often times when they confront them, the latter would challenge them as to their authority.
"Nobody cares for this cemetery since President Koroma came here to bury the victims of the August 14 mudslide and flood incident. No one has come to see what is happening here. We are volunteering here and we have a simple mandate - to help relatives of deceased identify graves of their dead, brush the cemetery and dig graves for private burials. These people are mining illegally here and no one stops them," Abubakarr Bangura explained.
Abdulai Sesay, one of the volunteers, said he was concerned about the declining condition of the notice board which bears the numbering on all tombs of Ebola victims, adding that the situation has rendered their job of identifying graves of victims very difficult.
"This cemetery, which should be a monument in Sierra Leone, and for foreign researchers, has been neglected. Our major problem here is the illegal sand mining. There is a big hole in the cemetery land which was created by flooding during last year's raining season as a result of the sand mining," he lamented.
He said that initially they were told that the total acreage of the cemetery land was 52, but noted that they were losing a large portion of it to encroachers, who are constructing dwelling houses and mining sands.
A sand miner, Mohamed Allieu Turay, said they decided to embark on illegal sand mining because they are jobless.
"This is the only employment in this area. If we don't mine sand we will not get our means of livelihood. We are aware of the impact of our action on the cemetery, but there is no option," he said matter of factly.
However, independent candidate in the March 7 Local Council election, Mohamed Opeh Koroma, who is vying in Ward 382 where the cemetery is situated, has vowed to protect it from the illegal sand miners and encroachers if he wins the election.
"The Ebola cemetery is very important to Sierra Leone, it will be used to identity Ward 382, and hence, we must ensure its protection, adding that he solely rehabilitated the road leading to the cemetery from 555 Spot Junction," he said.