Catholic Relief Services works with international, national, church, and government agencies to assist numerous displaced communities return to their homes. 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 remained relatively secure over the past year. As the disarmament program continues, CRS hopes to begin agricultural and emergency health services in territories which are currently under rebel control.
Recent Emergency Activities
CRS/Sierra Leone has been in the forefront of providing humanitarian assistance to previously inaccessible parts of the country. Recent assistance includes:
- An emergency food distribution of around 300 metric tons of bulgur wheat, oil, and lentils in Lunsar, a town of approximately 20,000 people situated about 75 miles northeast of the capital, Freetown.
- An additional food distribution in the Northern Province capital of Makeni, providing 260 metric tons of food aids to over 18,000 vulnerable civilians.
In response to this, Catholic Relief Services:
- Airlifted food to vulnerable groups, primarily children, in Kabala.
- Catholic Relief Services shipped several months worth of food supplies overland across Sierra Leone's northern border with Guinea and fed 1,700 residents of the displaced person's camp in Kabala, Sierra Leone
The agency continues with emergency food distributions for more than 20,000 internally displaced people residing in a camp in Kenema, the capital of the Eastern Province. In total, 652 metric tons of food supplies were distributed in November and December.
Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Sierra Leone are continuing the Emergency Housing Reconstruction project in the Calaba Town area of the Freetown Peninsula. Since the project began:
- 684 destroyed houses have been reconstructed.
- Over 120 houses have been built to roof level in the past three months.
- Catholic Relief Services provided the roofing materials given to these families.
- 897 housing units since January 1999
- 103 houses, which have been raised to roof level and these families, have received additional building materials from Catholic Relief Services.
Catholic Relief Services supports 27 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 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. In December and January, CRS field staff conducted harvest and needs assessments, selecting vulnerable farming communities for the next planting season, which starts in April.
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. Several hundred youth gathered to plant more than 200,000 tree seedlings in the heavily deforested hills overlooking the capital.
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. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Sierra Leone in October in an effort to jumpstart the delayed commencement of disarmament activities. The United Nations also made Sierra Leone a high priority, and committed to sending a peacekeeping force to support the peace accord. The government initiated a nation-wide Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration campaign in November 1999. As of January 23rd, more than 13,000 of an estimated 45,000 combatants in the country had taken part in the disarmament process.
United Nations peacekeepers arrived at the end of November. When the United Nations forces arrived, however, ECOMOG began to downsize. The current number of peacekeeping forces in country is low, and rebels continue to control large portions of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. These rebel combatants remain a threat to civilians and interrupt humanitarian activities.
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.