After a civil war in the 1990s and early 2000s and an Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone is slowly recovering by investing in its future through technological innovation. The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, stated that “Science and technology is the bedrock for the development of any modern economy.” With its labor force consisting of more than 60 percent of subsistence farming and its GDP being agriculture-based, the West African country has its sights on technology to help diversify its economy. UNICEF, Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) and businesses are working together to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans.
UNICEF and DSTI
President Bio created the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) in 2018 to further his vision of developing a technology sector in the country. Dr. David Sengeh is the first Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI. UNICEF and DSTI have partnered to support the use of digital data. One result of the partnership is the Free Quality School Education Initiative. The initiative uses data science to help grant free education to every child and give fast feedback on test scores and the quality of education. MagicBox is an open-source data-sharing platform that UNICEF is investing in which includes partners such as Google and IBM. People can use MagicBox to map epidemics in order to reduce the spread of disease and it has helped Sierra Leone since 2014. Its first use was during the 2014 Ebola Crisis in West Africa. It can also collect private and public data on education and poverty.
Drone Medicine Transportation
UNICEF and the DSTI are also testing drones that could deliver medicine and vaccines. Drones could also send pictures and digital data of natural disasters to mitigate hazards to the public. Sierra Leone is the fourth country that UNICEF drone-tested. Aerial imaging, used for mapping infrastructure, transportation and agriculture, helps elevate the country’s development. Since it is one of the least developed countries in the world, drone data pertaining to infrastructure is a good first step in development. For example, only 10 percent of the roads are paved, making transportation slow and difficult. During the rainy seasons, rural floods cut off communities for up to six months. Drones could reach the communities, especially those with HIV and AIDS.
The GEN-350 is a new technological innovation in Sierra Leone that produces drinking water out of the air. Watergen created the generator called GEN-350 in its mission to provide affordable water to countries that lack clean drinking water. The generator simply needs electricity to operate. The GEN-350 can produce up to 900 liters of water a day. About 50 percent of the population lacks clean drinking water, so the generator reduces the possibility of waterborne disease. Waterborne diseases are one of the main causes of death in the country. Water sources for Sierra Leoneans include ponds, puddles and wells that chemicals from mining and agriculture have contaminated. Watergen’s GEN-350 is a long-term solution to clean and affordable water for those in poverty in Sierra Leone and the world.
Technological Innovation Ongoing
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $773,000 grant to DSTI’s GIS Portal in 2019 expresses increased interest in Dr. Sengeh’s goal to provide “real-time information for timely access and receipt of services, and optimize service delivery specifically in the provision of maternal healthcare services.” Although technological innovation in Sierra Leone is in its infancy, the government shows initiative with the creation of the DSTI.
A civil war between 1991 and 2002 tarnished its economy, but the country is seeing development as companies such as Watergen and organizations such as UNICEF provide solutions to alleviating the effects of poverty, such as poor education and polluted water.
– Lucas Schmidt