Catholic Relief Services has worked with international, national, church, and government agencies to assist numerous displaced communities return home.
In addition to emergency food distribution and housing reconstruction activities, the agency is continuing with its originally-planned schedule of agriculture recovery, health, water/sanitation, and education assistance in the Southern Province, which has fortunately remained relatively secure over the past year.
Recent Emergency Activities
CRS/Sierra Leone has been in the forefront of providing humanitarian assistance to previously inaccessible parts of the country. In mid-August 1999, the agency conducted an emergency food distribution in Lunsar, a town of approximately 20,000 people situated about 75 miles northeast of the capital, Freetown. This distribution of around 300 metric tons of bulgur wheat, oil, and lentils marked the first large-scale humanitarian assistance to reach civilians in rebel-held territory since the beginning of 1999. CRS successfully completed a further distribution of food aid in the Northern Province capital of Makeni in September, providing 260 metric tons of food aid to over 18,000 vulnerable civilians.
- Civilians fled north after the fighting resumed in the Northern Province in October, seeking refuge in Kabala, a government-controlled town in the far north of the country. Catholic Relief Services has been airlifting food to vulnerable groups, primarily children, in Kabala since November.
- The agency continues with emergency food distributions for more than 37,000 internally displaced people residing in a camp in Kenema, the capital of the Eastern Province. In total, 978 metric tons of food supplies were distributed in October and November in Kenema.
- Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Sierra Leone are continuing the Emergency Housing Reconstruction project in the Calaba Town area of the Freetown Peninsula. In the past month, fifty-one houses have been raised to the roof level. These homeowners are receiving a distribution of roofing materials from CRS. Since the project started in March 1999, 615 destroyed houses have been reconstructed, benefiting more than 10,500 people.
- The agency started another housing reconstruction project in Masiaka, a town on the southern edge of the Northern Province that also sustained heavy damage from rebels at the beginning of 1999. To date, 59 houses had been rebuilt to the roof level and these families had received additional building materials from Catholic Relief Services.
- The agency completed the reconstruction of 110 low-cost housing units that were burned by rebels during their incursion into Freetown in early 1999. At a ceremony with the Minister of Housing, the agency formally handed over the keys to the Sierra Leone Housing Corporation (SALHOC), who is responsible for managing the housing estate.
Catholic Relief Services provided training for 140 facilitators at 27 CRS-supported youth centers around Freetown reaching over 5,500 displaced, orphaned, street, and other disadvantaged children. These centers emphasize non-formal primary education, community studies and peace education. In conjunction with local theater groups, the youths at the centers in Freetown have been engaged in drama competitions on the theme of "Peace, Forgiveness and Reconciliation."
CRS/Sierra Leone's Agriculture Recovery Project is designed to help resettling farming families to re-cultivate their fields and rehabilitate their livelihoods. During the first half of 1999, the agency distributed rice seeds and tools to 7,000 farming families. Another 150 groups received 900 bushels of groundnut seeds and 5,000 bundles of cassava sticks for planting in community farms.
Massive deforestation has led to major problems with soil erosion around Freetown. Recognizing the need, CRS/Sierra Leone sponsored the growing of acacia tree seedlings, which were raised and cared for by local youth groups. On 18th September, several hundred youth gathered to plant more than 50,000 tree seedlings in the heavily deforested hills overlooking the capital. An additional 150,000 seedlings were also planted before the rains ended.
Background of the Crisis
Sierra Leone has been engulfed in a brutal civil war for the past eight years. In December 1998, fighting escalated between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel forces and the democratically elected government, which relies for protection on ECOMOG, a regional West African intervention force. By early January 1999, the rebels had managed to capture most of the Northern Province and launched an attack on the capital city of Freetown.
In May 1999, the Government of Sierra Leone and the rebel forces declared a cease-fire. All parties now agree that the combatants must be successfully disarmed and demobilized if genuine peace is to take root. Toward this end, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Sierra Leone in October in an effort to jumpstart the delayed commencement of disarmament activities. The United Nations has also made Sierra Leone a high priority, and has committed to sending a peacekeeping force to support the peace accord.
The first contingent of 130 United Nations peacekeeping forces arrived on November 30th. An additional 1,500 peacekeepers are expected to arrive in December. The troops will supplement the ECOMOG forces, many of which will be integrated into the UN peacekeeping system.
The government initiated a nation-wide Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program on November 4th, 1999. As of December 7th, approximately 2800 (6%) of an estimated 45,000 combatants had taken part in the initial phases of disarmament.
After having worked in partnership with the people of Sierra Leone for over 35 years, Catholic Relief Services is well-positioned to respond to the current humanitarian crisis caused by an escalation in fighting in early 1999. Catholic Relief Services hopes to resume activities in rebel-controlled territories once the security situation stabilizes.