Catholic Relief Services works with international, national, church, and government agencies to assist members of displaced communities return to their homes. The agency provides emergency food distribution and housing reconstruction activities and is continuing with its originally planned schedule of agriculture recovery, health, water/sanitation, and education assistance in the Southern Province. This area has remained relatively secure over the past year. Catholic Relief Services hopes to begin agricultural and emergency health services in territories which are currently under rebel control, once rebels in that part of the country are disarmed through the disarmament program.
Recent Emergency Activities
CRS/Sierra Leone has been in the forefront of providing humanitarian assistance to previously inaccessible parts of Sierra Leone. Assistance includes delivering emergency food aid to displaced people. Recently, civilians fled north after an outbreak of fighting between rebel factions flared up in October. These people sought refuge in Kabala, a government-controlled town in the far north of the country. In response to this, Catholic Relief Services:
Airlifted food to vulnerable groups in Kabala.
Shipped several months worth of food supplies overland across Sierra Leone's northern border with Guinea, to feed the 1,700 residents of the displaced person's camp in Kabala.
The agency continues with emergency food distributions for more than 20,000 internally displaced people residing in camps in Kenema, the capital of the Eastern Province.
Additional Emergency Activities
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:
561 destroyed houses have been completely reconstructed and reoccupied.
Over 170 houses have been built to roof level in the past four months.
Catholic Relief Services helped these families to reconstruct their houses by providing roofing and other building materials.
CRS has also started another housing reconstruction project in Masiaka, a town that has sustained heavy damage from rebels. The agency has assisted with the reconstruction of:
103 houses, which have been raised to roof level; these families have received additional building materials from Catholic Relief Services.
110 low-cost housing units completed last year in Freetown.
Catholic Relief Services has contributed to the reconstruction of over 940 houses since January 1999.
CRS/Sierra Leone Rehabilitation Projects Update
Catholic Relief Services supports 28 youth centers around Freetown reaching over 5,000 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 re-cultivate their fields and improve their livelihoods. In January and February, agency field staff conducted harvest and needs assessments. Staff selected vulnerable farming communities for the next planting season, which starts in April.
Catholic Relief Services is purchasing rice seeds and tools in preparation for the next agricultural season. These supplies will be distributed to needy farming families in the next few months, before the rainy season begins.
Massive deforestation has led to major problems with soil erosion around Freetown. CRS/Sierra Leone recognizes the need and has sponsored the growing of acacia tree seedlings, which were raised and cared for by local youth associations. Youth groups and community organizations planted more than 200,000 tree seedlings in the heavily deforested hills overlooking the capital. The agency continues with its reforestation efforts. Currently, two sites have been selected, and nurseries will be started in the upcoming months.
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 January 1999, the rebels had managed to capture most of the Northern Province and launched an attack on the capital city of Freetown, wreaking huge amounts of destruction and taking many lives.
In May 1999, the Government of Sierra Leone and the rebel forces declared a cease-fire. All parties agreed 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 1999, 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. In November 1999, the government initiated a nation-wide Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration campaign.
By the end of February, approximately 16,000 of an estimated 45,000 combatants in the country had taken part in the disarmament process. When the United Nations forces arrived at the end of November, ECOMOG began to downsize. The current number of peacekeeping forces in the 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 escalation in fighting that began in early 1999. Catholic Relief Services hopes to resume activities in rebel-controlled territories once the security situation stabilizes.