Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone Fact Sheet


Office Of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

May 20, 1999

The following document was released by the U.S. Agency For International Development Bureau For Humanitarian Response (BHR) & Office Of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

Washington - Sierra Leone has been embroiled in civil war for over eight years. It is a conflict which has claimed at least 20,000 lives and forced almost half of Sierra Leone's 4.5 million inhabitants to flee their homes. Rebels have primary control over areas in eastern, northern and western Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone's elected President, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, was restored to power in March 1998 following a coup and a year of rule by a military junta. Since then, ex-junta soldiers joined forces with a rebel movement against the Kabbah government, which is backed by the Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG. In late December 1998, rebels captured a string of towns in the north, including the provincial center, Makeni. On January 6, 1999, they attacked the capital, Freetown. Intense fighting forced people in eastern parts of Freetown and thousands of other civilians to flee toward the city center. The fighting cut residents off from food and potable water, and telephone and electricity service went out through much of the city. The fighting also forced most expatriate staff of relief organizations to evacuate the city temporarily. After two weeks of heavy fighting, ECOMOG pushed the rebels out of Freetown and regained control of most of the city and much of the Freetown peninsula by the end of January. Sporadic fighting continues.

Numbers Affected:

Since the rebel attack on Freetown in early January 1999, an estimated 5,000 people have been killed in the fighting. There are reportedly between 700,000 to one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sierra Leone, including an estimated 150,000 in Freetown, 25,000 in Waterloo, 30,000 in Lungi, 55,000 in Kenema, 4,000 in Bo, 13,000 in Blama, 17,000 in Kambia, 3,000 in Bombuna, 5,000 on Banana Island (figure provided by ECOMOG, not verified), at least 8,000 IDPs in Yele, and unconfirmed reports of some 18,000 IDPs in Shenge. The refugee flow into Guinea has slowed considerably. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates a total of approximately 460,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in neighboring countries. The number of Sierra Leonean refugees registered by UNHCR in Guinea since December 27 is nearly 12,000.

Current Situation:

In April, ECOMOG intensified its military campaign to retake key areas of the Freetown peninsula still in rebel hands. ECOMOG succeeded in recapturing the strategic towns of Songo (30 mi. northeast of Freetown) and Masiaka (47 mi. northest of Freetown) by the end of April. At the same time, preparations for planned peace talks between the rebels and the Government of Sierra Leone (GOSL) were underway. On May 18, the rebels and the government signed a cease-fire agreement effective May 24. The agreement includes a guarantee for safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to all people in need.

Freetown is calm but tense. The curfew there continues from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. On May 13, rebels attacked the ECOMOG base at nearby Songo in an apparent attempt to bypass Songo and infiltrate the capital. Although ECOMOG successfully repelled the attack, which followed on the heels of other recent rebel attacks on Masiaka and Port Loko, it shows that rebels are still active in the region close to Freetown. The area is key as it controls access into the interior of the country. Masiaka connects to the main highway from Freetown to Bo, Kenema and Makeni. The Masiaka-Mile 91 highway is still controlled by rebels, while ECOMOG forces control the road from Freetown to Masiaka and Mile 91 to Bo. As rebels have been routed from towns such as Songo, Masiaka, and Port Loko, there have been reports of rebels committing abuses as they flee. Although there has been some fighting in the Kenema area, plans for two new IDP camps in Kenema are still going ahead, although slowly due to lack of resources. Guinean troops continue to hold their positions in areas outside of Kambia where IDPs are concentrated. There are reports that the road to Kambia and Guinea had been opened, but only for military convoys. The situation in Kambia is still insecure, so aid agencies have not yet returned to the area. Rebels continue to sporadically make incursions across the border into Guinea.

The formal economy has been virtually destroyed, leaving people with little access to commercial markets for basic commodities and the government little revenue to offer basic services.

The humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone remains critical, especially in view of the approaching rainy season (May - November). Lack of access to certain areas within Sierra Leone continues to be the major problem facing aid agencies. The half of the country's population living in rebel-held areas (approximately two thirds of the country's territory) remains isolated and inaccessible to humanitarian agencies. The limited information available about these areas indicates desperate conditions, including reports of starvation. The living conditions of most people throughout Sierra Leone remain precarious. Persistent insecurity continues to limit and interrupt humanitarian access and activities even in the government-held part of the country.

Humanitarian Response:

Nevertheless, humanitarian agencies continue to try to provide basic emergency support in as many areas as possible and to move into new areas as they become accessible. By late March, most expatriate humanitarian staff, including UN personnel, had returned to Freetown. Most humanitarian coordination meetings have shifted from Conakry to Freetown.

Humanitarian agencies are still unable to move substantial quantities of relief goods to any part of the country except Freetown. Road transport within even accessible areas of Sierra Leone continues to be dangerous. There is still no safe, viable road access from Freetown to Bo and Kenema, despite ECOMOG successes in recapturing some key towns along the way. Relief agencies had pre-positioned supplies in Bo and Kenema in December 1998, but these supplies will soon run out. Food aid, in particular, is a problem since it is bulky and difficult to transport by air. In preparation, humanitarian agencies would like to pre-position large amounts of relief commodities now for Bo and Kenema. However, with the Freetown-Bo road unlikely to open soon, humanitarian agencies have been assessing alternative routes: by boat from Shenge to Nitti Harbor and then overland from Nitti to Bo and Kenema, and through Mattru Harbor and then overland to Bo. Serious security concerns remain about these routes, however, as commercial convoys have encountered attacks and humanitarian agencies have had vehicles commandeered. The WFP-managed humanitarian helicopter, cofunded by OFDA, continues to transport humanitarian personnel to conduct assessment missions as well as to ferry small humanitarian cargoes. Improved road access, however, remains critical for humanitarian operations.

Despite these constraints, relief organizations continue to deliver humanitarian assistance in the approximately one third of Sierra Leone (primarily southern and eastern areas) where they can operate with some degree of safety. An OFDA sealift of 200 additional rolls of plastic sheeting and 30,000 blankets for use in Freetown and upcountry arrived in Freetown on April 30, bringing OFDA's total contribution of non-food relief supplies to 1,060 rolls of plastic sheeting and 50,000 blankets (the first batch of supplies were brought in by an airlift in February). In Freetown, CARE, the consignee for the shipment, has distributed OFDA-provided plastic sheeting to local and international NGOs for the construction of feeding centers and IDP camps (including camp latrines) and for house reconstruction. Plastic sheeting provides a useful complement to locally available materials such as mud bricks. Shelter continues to be a major focus of humanitarian assistance in Sierra Leone, ! as the need for adequate shelter for IDPs in Freetown and elsewhere remains with the rainy season fast approaching. The Sierra Leonean government's National Commission for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (NCRR), is promoting a coordinated NGO effort to help with shelter rehabilitation. CARE is serving as the lead-coordinating agency in a joint effort to address shelter needs. Shelter agencies' preference is to use shelter material, including plastic sheeting, to build for individual families at their home locations, rather than building more IDP camps. Rapid house reconstruction minimizes the time IDPs need to live in camps. However, many families will be unable to rebuild or repair their homes prior to the rainy season. Therefore, aid agencies reluctantly anticipate the continuing needs for displaced camps in Freetown during the next several months.

The health situation in accessible areas of Sierra Leone is now largely under control. Health programs are operating with increased support from UNICEF and WHO which are providing medical supplies and equipment, including vaccines, and technical assistance to health NGOs and the Ministry of Health. International NGOs are supporting clinics and hospitals, some of which provide free care, in Freetown, Bo district, Kenema district, Pujehun district, and Bonthe, including mobile clinic services for displaced camps. Drug supplies are largely adequate, although there is still difficulty transporting drugs from Freetown to the interior. Handicap International provides assistance, including occupational and psycho-social counseling, for nearly 200 amputees and other war-wounded in Freetown and is looking into providing prosthetics for the amputees. UNICEF reports that collaboration among NGOs in the health sector is good and that health NGOs in Sierra Leone have the necessary capac! ity to expand programs if inaccessible areas should open up or additional needs arise. One of the main activities of health agencies has been the expansion of EPI services, particularly measles immunization. Measles immunization campaigns targeting children in Bo, Kenema, Bonthe, Freetown, Waterloo have been completed. The measles campaigned reached over 65,000 children. The UN's Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU) reported a "significant reduction" in the number of children with measles admitted to the Kenema pediatric ward and the Blama measles isolation unit operated by Merlin. The Ministry of Health reported about 19 cases of measles in eastern Freetown in April, but UNICEF is confident that the immunization campaign will prevent any major outbreaks in the area. As of April 9, of the 800 measles cases in the Kenema/Blama area, 95% were people who had fled from the rebel-held areas of Kailahun, Eastern Kenema, and Kono where routine immunization programs have been interrupted.

Specialized feeding programs in Freetown and upcountry are ongoing. A recent Ministry of Health rapid assessment of nutritional status in IDP camps in Freetown indicated that maternal malnutrition and malnutrition among children under five are still serious problems. Action Contre le Faim/France (ACF), a USAID/OFDA grantee and the lead agency in the nutrition sector in Sierra Leone, reported to USAID/OFDA that, as of May 5, there were 123 children in its Freetown therapeutic feeding center (TFC). As of May 5, it was providing another 1,100 children with dry rations at three different locations in Freetown. ACF is considering opening two additional dry ration locations in Freetown. ACF is also considering providing dry rations to displaced children under age five in Waterloo, and may open a wet feeding center there as well. In Bo, ACF's TFC has a growing caseload of 89 children. The numbers are increasing mostly due to screenings of IDPs located in remote areas. In Bo, 620 children are receiving dry rations. ACF plans to expand its feeding programs in order to reach more of the moderately malnourished population. It is looking at the Yele /Maotaka/Magburaka area for potential nutrition activities if access there improves.

The water and sanitation needs of IDPs in Freetown, Bo and Kenema are well covered overall. Water trucking, well rehabilitation and chlorination, and waste management activities in most IDP sites have reduced the incidence of water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhea. UNICEF and other health NGOs anticipate that there will be a serious outbreak of cholera during this year's rainy season due to the large concentrations of people in areas with poor sanitation. UNICEF and health NGOs are implementing a cholera preparedness plan consisting of chlorination of community wells, training programs in chlorination, the provision of oral rehydration solution (ORS) to be distributed, and a public hygiene education campaign. Medecins sans Frontiers (MSF)/Belgium is providing cholera kits and is willing to make them available wherever needed. In Freetown, ACF has moved beyond emergency latrine construction to more permanent structures due to the coming rainy season and because ! IDPs are now more settled in their current camp situations. ACF is planning to move toward more permanent solutions in water supply, moving beyond bladders and tanks to boreholes and wells. In Blama, ACF has completed construction of 200 emergency latrines, and the installation of one water tank. However, the government announced that it will relocate IDPs in Blama, so ACF will have to redo its efforts in a new camp. In Kenema, ACF foresees problems with water supply in the Lebanese School and Fonikor IDP camps if the government goes through with its plan to increase the total population of these camps to 30,000 people. ACF may helicopter in a drilling machine to Kenema to dig more boreholes. ACF is considering expanding it water and sanitation activities to the Yele region.

Food distributions continue in most IDP camps in Freetown and upcountry. However, relief agencies are concerned about food security in the coming months. The time of year from May to November is considered the "hungry season" as food stocks traditionally run low prior to the harvest at the end of the year. HACU reports that the situation in Bo and Kenema is very critical. Kenema will run out of food for IDP distribution by the end of May. There is still some food aid in Bo, and aircraft can fly there. Food stocks are being held in Conakry in reserve for future food needs in Sierra Leone. The challenge, however, continues to be getting the food to the people in need in the interior of the country. In addition, planned agriculture programs have had to be scaled back due to insecurity. Donors and NGOs working in the agriculture sector are focusing on emergency agriculture rehabilitation. Small-scale emergency seeds and tools programs, concentrating on root and vegetable seeds rather than rice seeds, are ongoing in various chiefdoms in the Bo, Pujehun, and Port Loko districts.

USG Humanitarian Assistance:

USG humanitarian assistance to Sierra Leone to date in fiscal year (FY) 1999 totals $38.3 million. Of the total, USAID/Food for Peace (FFP) provided $26.2 million in food aid (WFP has not yet called forward $9.5 million of the FFP pledge for Sierra Leone in FY99), USAID/OFDA provided $8.4 million in humanitarian assistance, USAID/Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) provided $556,222 for civil society, and USAID/Africa Bureau provided $1.5 million for child protection and reunification programs, and the State Department's Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) provided $2.03 million in refugee assistance. In response to the crisis precipitated by the rebel attack on Freetown in January, a USAID/OFDA team deployed to Conakry, Guinea, where humanitarian agencies' expatriate staff initially evacuated, from January 13 to May 6. The USAID/OFDA team reported on the humanitarian situation, conducted assessments in Sierra Leone when possible, coordinated with other! donors, reviewed funding requests, and coordinated the delivery of relief supplies. USAID/OFDA also responded to the recent crisis by immediately authorizing its grantees (Africare, Action Contre le Faim (ACF), Catholic Relief Services, CARE, MSF, World Vision, and UNICEF) to use existing grant funds to meet new emergency needs resulting from the recent fighting, allowing them to respond as rapidly to the crisis as possible.

To date in FY 1999, USAID/OFDA has programmed over $8.4 million to:

  • Africare to implement a health and agriculture program in Bo and Kenema; ACF/France for a nutrition and water/sanitation program in Makeni/Magburaka, Masingbi and Freetown;
  • CRS for an agriculture and health program in the northern, southern, and eastern provinces;
  • CARE for the procurement and distribution of non-food items to IDPs in Freetown; World Vision for an agriculture program in the Kono District;
  • UNOCHA to support its Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit;
  • WFP to provide helicopter support for humanitarian assistance; Merlin for a health program in Freetown and Kenema; MSF/Belgium for non-food assistance to IDPs in Kenema;
  • UNICEF for water and sanitation assistance, primary health care, immunization, and nutrition programs in affected areas in eastern, northern and southern areas; and procure and transport 1060 rolls of plastic sheeting and 50,000 blankets.

    BHR/OFDA Complex Emergency Assistance FY 1998 $8,251,717 BHR/OFDA
    Complex Emergency Assistance FY 1999 (programmed to date) $8,466,241

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