Sierra Leone - Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #5
BUREAU FOR HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE (BHR)
OFFICE OF U.S. FOREIGN DISASTER ASSISTANCE (OFDA)
Sierra Leone has been embroiled in civil war for over eight years. Its 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. Residents went into hiding in their homes, although many were reportedly forced into the streets as human shields for the rebels. The fighting cut residents off from food and drinkable 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 a city that had been home for weeks to thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) largely dependent on U.N. and relief agency assistance. By mid-January, ECOMOG had regained control of the western part of Freetown, but at the end of January there were still reports of fighting on the eastern end of the city.
Current Humanitarian Situation:
Needs: Shelter is a primary need, particularly in Freetown where up to 50,000 people are homeless. UN/OCHA reports that as of February 1, thousands of homes have been destroyed east of Kissy Road and entire sections of the eastern part of the city are leveled. Given the extent of the damage, UN/OCHA believes current estimates of shelter needs may be too low. Current plans call for the delivery of 2,300 rolls of plastic sheeting.
Other pressing non-food needs include blankets, sleeping pads, cooking utensils, soap, and water jugs. Lack of fuel also remains a serious problem. Fuel in Bo and Kenema reportedly costs as much as $18 per liter, and transport of relief commodities in these areas is hindered by limited fuel supplies. CRS reportedly has ten trucks stranded in the Bo/Kenema area because of both fuel and security concerns. In Bo, the only fuel supplies available are those for the immunization cold chain for National Immunization Day (NID). Many of the non-food items needed by IDPs are available for local purchase, and NGOs are providing some of these commodities as well. CARE will be coordinating the distribution of non-food items with ongoing food distributions, managed by the Committee on Food Aid (CFA). Corpse disposal, or reburial of corpses improperly buried, remains an important sanitation need in Freetown. WHO has ordered additional lime, disinfectant, gloves and aprons for disposal of corpses, and ACF is also bringing in small quantities of lime this week. According to WHO, the risk of epidemic is not high because most deaths were from gunshot wounds rather than disease, but nonetheless the issue needs to be addressed. Another sanitation concern is garbage, which is piling up in the city due to a shortage of trucks and fuel. Finally, while food aid is available in Freetown, World Vision staff reported on February 5 that some 2,000-3,000 people in need had not received food aid to date.
The most pressing health-related concern in Freetown is support for local staff in Freetown's hospitals, who have been working without salary, and often without food, under extremely difficult conditions for an extended period of time. This problem presents a context for reports of doctors seeking fees for their work. The Sierra Leone Health Committee in Conakry agreed that either food-for-work or monetary incentives should be given, and is currently working on the structure of such a plan. The Government of Guinea announced that it was sending in a team of doctors to assist in Freetown's hospitals. Five team members were to deploy to Freetown on February 12, with the others to follow. The U.N. Military Observer Mission to Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) will assist in bringing in the team.
Access/Security: Access to sections of Freetown is currently a problem. ECOMOG has cordoned off sections of the city to conduct routine house-to-house searches. This prevented a medical team of Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) doctors from getting to work at Connaught Hospital on February 5. Residents of Freetown also were told to stay in their homes until noon on that day. On February 8, the Brookfields section of the city was reportedly under cordon and search. Lack of access to the eastern part of the city has prevented a thorough assessment of the total numbers of people left homeless.
The GOSL issued a letter to the international NGO community on January 26 welcoming back NGOs to Freetown and suggesting they coordinate with the humanitarian committee already formed by the government. The GOSL did not provide any security guarantees or give assurances about the return of confiscated communications equipment, both of which remain a major concern to NGOs. The issue of transport of relief supplies to Bo and Kenema remains a serious concern due to insecurity at checkpoints.
A threat of a renewed rebel attack on Freetown, rumored to be imminent on or about February 6, caused widespread fear among both relief workers and Freetown residents, and resulted in new refugee outflows. The attack did not materialize, but there continue to be rumors of impending attacks and a reported estimate of 2,500 well armed rebels hiding in the hills around Freetown.
NGOs operating in Freetown continue to face restrictions on use of radio equipment, even though the GOSL changed its policy which banned the use of radios. The policy had initially been announced with a warning that people using radios would be shot. A senior national staff person of World Vision in Freetown was arrested by ECOMOG on February 6 when ECOMOG discovered numerous VHF handsets that had not been turned over. These handsets had not been programmed nor had ever been used. ECOMOG also seized NGO radios in Bo, where a commander told U.N. officials that he had not heard of the order rescinding the radio ban. The problem appears to be one of news traveling slowly. The U.N. has advised relief organizations to continue to use caution with their radios. Relief organizations are seeking a broadcast radio announcement of the new policy, similar to the original broadcast announcing the ban, to ensure that the policy change is disseminated as widely as the original prohibition.
Despite pressure to give drugs and other medical supplies to Guinean troops, UNICEF staff in Kambia have succeeded in preventing these supplies from going to combatants. UNICEF explained to the troops that the supplies are not for combatants but for humanitarian purposes; however, the staff remain under constant pressure to hand over medical and drug supplies. The U.S. Embassy in Conakry will bring this problem to the attention of Guinean officials.
Humanitarian Coordination: UN/OCHA is the coordinating body for assistance to Sierra Leone. On February 5, UN/OCHA announced that the humanitarian plan of action is in the process of being finalized and will be distributed to donors and other interested parties shortly. UN/OCHA worked with humanitarian sectoral committees in developing the humanitarian plan. WFP is currently using a helicopter, funded by OFDA, and the Norwegian Government, to provide air support for ongoing humanitarian operations. The helicopter will be available for the use of NGOs and UN agencies for assessments and possibly the transport of small supplies. A representative of a Sierra Leonean civil society group, the Campaign for Good Governance, suggested to UN agencies and NGOs on February 8 that a bridge must be built between civil society groups and international NGOs. The representative cited a lack of communication between the two groups, and emphasized the need for trust and understanding to be cultivated.
Movements: In Kenema, in eastern Sierra Leone, some 10,000-14,000 people had moved out of the city towards Bo (to Blama) due to insecurity. That number has now reportedly increased dramatically to as many as 100,000, following renewed attacks on the town. IDPs from Kenema are reportedly prohibited from entering Bo by ECOMOG troops, who fear that rebel infiltrators could be among the IDPs.
The GOSL and relief organizations are using 150,000 people as a working estimate for Freetown's IDP population. Since the fighting began, 126,000 IDPs have been registered. In other parts of the country, there are an estimated 55,000 people newly displaced around Kenema, 17,000 IDPs in Kambia and 4,000 IDPs in Bo. UNHCR estimates 500,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and Liberia. According to UNHCR, since the current crisis began, 2,132 Sierra Leonean refugees have been registered crossing into Guinea. Reports now indicate that an estimated 5,000 people have been killed in Freetown.
U.S. Government Assistance:
OFDA responded immediately by authorizing its grantees (Africare, ACF, CRS, CARE, MSF/Holland, 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. On January 13, OFDA deployed a two-person team to Conakry, where most expatriate workers of relief organizations evacuated from Sierra Leone and have temporarily established operations. The purpose of the team is to report on the situation, conduct assessments into Sierra Leone as access becomes available and, review requests for funding. OFDA has programmed to date in FY 1999 $6.1 million to extend grants with several relief organizations to implement emergency health, water, sanitation, and agriculture programs and distribute non-food items; co-fund WFP's appeal for helicopter support for the humanitarian community to conduct assessments; support the UN/OCHA's Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit; and procure and transport by air 860 rolls of plastic sheeting and 20,000 blankets. The commodities on the airlift, which are scheduled to arrive in Conakry on February 13, will be distributed to accessible areas in Freetown. To coordinate the delivery of the OFDA airlift commodities and assess the logistic capacities in Freetown, Lungi and Conakry, OFDA deployed two logisticians to Conakry. OFDA is also reviewing new requests for additional funding.
BHR/OFDA Complex Emergency Assistance
FY 1998: $8,251,717
BHR/OFDA Complex Emergency Assistance FY 1999 (programmed to date): $6,100,000
Previous fact sheets on Sierra Leone can be found on USAID's web site at: http://www.info.usaid.gov/hum_response/ofda/situation.html