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Every city needs a ‘chief heat officer’

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Experience, June 2022

The new buildings sprouted like weeds, clinging to hillsides and rising in the cracks between houses. In many neighborhoods, tin roofs on shacks were so densely packed, they resembled a game of Tetris. Everywhere Eugenia Kargbo looked, Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, seemed to be devouring itself.  

For years, Kargbo had watched her hometown grow denser and denser, hotter and hotter. Freetown, situated on a peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, had always been balmy. But in recent years, migrants — many fleeing failing crops and other effects of climate change — have flooded into Freetown. The city, home to just over 1 million people in 2015, has an estimated 1.27 million today. And as the population swelled, trees came down to make room for houses, average temperatures ticked upward, and residents began complaining that the heat had become unbearable.

Now, as Freetown’s first-ever “chief heat officer,” Kargbo has a chance to be part of the solution. “The problem is quite invisible,” she says. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s Africa, oh, it’s the tropics,’ but that hides how much of a problem heat has become.”

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