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Sierra Leone

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone. (78084)

The situation in Sierra Leone is stable and the country has made considerable progress since the end of the civil war in 2002. This was confirmed by the withdrawal of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, UNAMSIL in December 2005. However, considerable challenges remain and the state is fragile. Current threats to continued stability include frustration resulting from large-scale unemployment, particularly among young men, and the weak capacity of government to deliver basic services. Poverty is high, with 70 per cent. estimated to be living below the poverty line. The run-up to the 2007 elections is likely to be a period of increased tension within the country and insecurity in other countries in the region may also present challenges to continued stability.

Sierra Leone is currently ranked 176 out of 177 on the Human Development Index and continues to have some of the worst health indicators in the world, particularly in terms of maternal and child mortality. Malaria is a major cause of death. There are occasional epidemics of cholera and Lassa fever poses a regional threat in the east of the country.

There are currently approximately 40,000 refugees in Sierra Leone principally from Liberia. With improved stability in Liberia, many of these have started, or are preparing to go home. Since January 2006, some 9,000 have returned. DFID has supported the care and maintenance of Liberian refugees in camps across the region for some years, and more recently has financed their repatriation from Sierra Leone and other countries. In 2005, £1.1 million was committed for these objectives, and this year, a further £700,000 has been allocated. In addition, DFID has spent over £3.5 million per year for the last three years to help rebuild Liberia and thereby encourage refugees from Sierra Leone and other countries to return home.

DFID's programme since the end of the war has concentrated on security and rebuilding government institutions and these will remain an important component of the country programme. The programme is currently developing its strategy for the next three years, and as part of this is exploring options for expanding its work in the areas of basic services, economic development and job creation. Through our country-office in Freetown, and from Africa Division's Conflict and Humanitarian Unit in London, we are monitoring the humanitarian situation closely.