Of Sierra Leone’s population of 7 million people, more than half are living below the poverty line. In 2019, the UN Development Programme Index ranked this West African country 181st out of 185 countries based on “average achievement in three dimensions of human development—a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.” Such a ranking is significantly influenced by the fact that millions of Sierra Leoneans are affected by food insecurity and many children are malnourished. Here are five facts about hunger in Sierra Leone.
Five Facts About Hunger in Sierra Leone
- More than 3 million Sierra Leoneans lack reliable access to adequate food. In total, over 40% of Sierra Leone’s population is food insecure. Over 50% of Sierra Leone’s population lives on less than $1.25 per day, so many people struggle to buy sufficient and nutritious food. According to the 2019 Global Hunger Index, about one out in every four people in the country are undernourished.
- Nearly 40% of children suffer from stunted or impaired growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. This can permanently impact health and cognitive development. Families living in poverty are less capable of providing their children with an adequate variety of nutrients in their diets. In 2018, the rate of mortality for children under five years old was 10.5%; about half of these deaths are attributable to malnutrition.
- Sierra Leone ended an eleven-year war in 2002, and was hit by the 2014 Ebola pandemic; these have greatly exacerbated rates of poverty and hunger in Sierra Leone. The long-term conflict dismantled national infrastructure in both rural and urban areas, resulting in a lack of effective basic social services Beginning in May 2014, the Ebola crisis resulted in almost 4,000 deaths and a serious economic downturn in Sierra Leone. The country is still dealing with the aftermath of these events.
- Irregular rainfall has significantly reduced rice production in recent years. Rice is a staple food in Sierra Leone, but local agricultural production is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the population. In 2018, the majority of rice-growing households produced only half as much rice as they expected. Therefore, instead of exporting rice, which would improve economic growth, the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars importing the staple.
- The COVID-19 pandemic is putting more people at risk of acute hunger and starvation. According to the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), without sufficient aid, countries with high levels of food insecurity may face “mega-famines.” The WFP has also reported that food insecurity could double worldwide in 2020, affecting 130 million more people.
Many organizations have taken action to address food insecurity and malnutrition in Sierra Leone. In 2018, Action Against Hunger aided 8,000 people with food security programs that reduced malnutrition among children and increased dietary diversity. The WFP, UNICEF, and Sierra Leone’s government are distributing nutrient-dense food to young children and mothers to reduce child malnutrition.
The WFP also provides food to children in schools and supports smallholder farmers. In May 2020, the WFP assisted more than 17,000 people by distributing over 47 metric tons of food assistance, transporting 900 metric tons of improved seed rice to smallholder farms, and providing cash payments to more than 1,000 farming households.
The World Bank has provided Sierra Leone’s government with $100 million to deal with economic challenges during the pandemic and reduce poverty. The UN is attempting to coordinate a global response to the pandemic that would require $4.7 billion to “protect millions of lives and stem the spread of coronavirus in fragile countries,” including Sierra Leone.
These facts about hunger in Sierra Leone show that this issue is widespread and likely worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with multiple NGOs and members of the international community working to address this problem with food assistance and aid for farmers, there is hope for improvement; Sierra Leoneans may experience lower rates of hunger and malnutrition in the near future.
– Rachel Powell