Since its withdrawal from Sierra Leone in January 1999, the ICRC has striven tirelessly to secure acceptable working conditions to pave the way for its prompt return to the country. In May, the ICRC sent a team of expatriates to resume its activities on a permanent basis.
Following the peace agreement, the security situation along the highways linking Freetown, Bo and Kenema has recently improved, thereby opening the roads eastwards to traffic again. This enabled humanitarian actors to send the first substantial consignment of relief food to Bo and Kenema. Previously, displaced persons outside the capital were rarely provided with any form of assistance. Whether the roads can be used safely in the future will dictate the food situation upcountry.
War wounded and the disabled are still among the main victims of the conflict. The plight of those living upcountry is of particular concern in view of the fact that most medical structures outside Freetown are likely to be inoperative and have run out of medical stocks.
The ICRC delegation for Sierra Leone is located in Freetown with a sub-delegation in Kenema.
Assistance for the Sick and Wounded:
The plight of amputees is critical and the problem is enormous considering the number of amputees one routinely sees in Freetown alone and the fact that the majority of cases are still in inaccessible areas upcountry. Once the population is able to move more freely, alternative treatments such as reconstructive surgery will have to be considered as a priority for double amputees.
The large number of mutilations and amputations seen in recent months has left many patients without appropriate care. In response, the ICRC has set up an independent hospital for the sole purpose of treating war wounded and for specialist orthopaedic and reconstructive surgery free of charge. Through surgery and active physiotherapy patients are able to lead more independent lives within their communities. The treatment of the most disabled due to conflict receive priority treatment.
The ICRC also provides medicines and surgical materials to Kenema Hospital, the main referral centre in the east, where large numbers of civilian and war wounded are in need of treatment. An ICRC surgical team works permanently in the hospital since September 1999, performing some fifteen operations every week.
Cooperation with the National Society:
During their absence from Sierra Leone, the ICRC functioned as lead agency for the international activities of the International Red Cross Movement. However, the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society was the only component of the Movement that operated within the country.
Consultations involving participating National Societies, the International Federation, SLRCS, and the ICRC were held with the object of improving the flow of information and defining procedures for the dispatch of emergency assistance. Action plans were established by the SLRCS to assist the internally displaced as well as the war wounded and sick in Freetown. With the support of Participating National Societies, non-food items were put at the disposal of the SLRCS.
The ICRC is working on various action plans concerning its traditional cooperation activities with the National Society. These include the restoration of contacts among families scattered by the conflict, International Humanitarian Law education and first-aid preparedness. Also under preparation are action plans for relief and medical activities.
Assistance to Internally Displaced People (IDP):
Thousands of internally displaced people in Freetown and Kenema are living in precarious conditions and are in urgent need of assistance. Action plans were established to assist IDP in both areas.
The ICRC cooperates with the SLRCS to provide shelter and non-food items such as blankets, sleeping mats, plastic sheeting, clothes, baby packs and kitchen sets for IDP living in camps in Freetown and Kenema.
The ICRC activities in Sierra Leone cover a wide spectrum of humanitarian activities, such as:
Assistance to ex-detainees and displaced people:
Between January and September 1999, the ICRC:
- proposed to help secure the release of detainees held in connection with the conflict that ended on 25 May, and who will be released under the July peace agreement.
- provided material assistance to 1,312 ex-detainees.
- provided materiel assistance to 16,150 displaced people in 2 camps and to 3,000 vulnerable individuals and 100 indigent groups in Freetown.
Restoring family links through the Red Cross Message Network (RCM):
- with the National Society, revived the tracing programme, facilitating the exchange of RCM.
Assistance to medical institutions:
- supplied food and other commodities to 19 institutions, mainly hospitals, orphanages, homes for the handicapped, the Ministry of Health and colleges.
- resumed activities in the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital, including repairs.
- resumed activities in the 4 ICRC-supported clinics which had been vandalized during the conflict in Freetown and provided them weekly with drugs and medical supplies.
- commenced construction of an operating theatre and physiotherapy, kitchen and laundry facilities at the Kenema Hospital and transformation of the present kitchen into a 40-bed surgical ward.
Activities to promote the understanding the ICRC's role, its principles of action and the Red Cross movement. Emphasis is placed on education and communication activities for the general public and the armed forces.
In 1999, the ICRC:
- organized a workshop on a dissemination/information action plan for armed forces and other bearers of weapons, Red Cross staff and volunteers, schools and local authorities.
- maintained contacts with local media, particularly radio stations, which broadcast ICRC press releases and updates on activities and also maintained contact with the national television station which reported on ICRC medical activities.
- kept government officials, the media, donors and the humanitarian community abreast of ICRC activities through a quarterly bulletin.
Budget and Staff:
The 2000 budget for ICRC Sierra Leone is SFr 14,450,097.
- 12 expatriates.
- 50 (approx.) locally hired staff.