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 Poverty _Sierra Leone
As one of the poorest countries in the world, Sierra Leone is ranked 180 out of 187 on the U.N.’s Human Development Index and faces many challenges to creating sustained development. The year 2012, the last year for which official statistics are available, put the proportion of the population below the poverty line, at 60%.  Since the recent Ebola outbreak, current estimates indicate that 77.5% of the population suffers from poverty in Sierra Leone.

Ebola Epidemic and its Consequences

The Ebola epidemic significantly set back the progress made by the West-African nation since the end of its long civil war in 2002. Taking around four thousand lives, and disrupting the country’s health system, the outbreak rocked the developing country.

Until the outbreak, Sierra Leone made numerous strides in multiple aspects of development. The country was cited as a success story of peacebuilding missions and establishing good governance and stable institutions. GDP growth averaged over seven percent every year for the past decade, but shrank to two percent after the West-African Ebola crisis.

Sierra Leone’s Global Reliance

The country is heavily reliant on exports of iron ore to support its domestic economy, contributing to GDP more than all other factors combined. Most of the rest of the country’s revenue comes from agricultural products, which remain at low productivity levels across the board.

Additionally, the country has a high dependence on foreign aid, with more than half of investment coming from foreign sources.

Despite progress, lack of infrastructure and high youth unemployment remain large barriers to the country elevating to a middle-income status. With 70% of its youth unemployed and only about 40% of adults able to read, significant investments in economic development and education remain high priorities to eradicate poverty in Sierra Leone.

The poor nation also has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, with over 71 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Essential International Aid

Many international groups are engaging in efforts to reduce the level of poverty in Sierra Leone, including the International Finance Corporation branch of the World Bank, which is investing in many critical areas to boost economic and private sector development to hopefully make the country a self-sustaining middle-income country.

Additionally, the International Rescue Commission provides humanitarian relief efforts through local engagement to prevent death by preventable diseases. The organization accomplishes such feats through its healthcare and educational assistance which improves future prospects.

While the rise of Ebola may have temporarily derailed development efforts, Sierra Leone continues to march toward improved economic and social conditions with help from international organizations. While challenges exist, the country has been consistently improving since 2002.

The country hopes to bounce back from its recent hiccup as quickly as possible and to begin addressing the issue of poverty in Sierra Leone, which prevents it from becoming a middle-income country.

Adam Gonzalez

Photo: Flickr

The Poorest City in the World

A poor city in a wealthy country: Monrovia, Liberia.

In examination of the ten poorest cities in the world, all ten of them are in Africa. In a Western African country on the coast lies a city full of slums. Theorists suggest the poorest city in the world is in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia. The population of Liberia is currently 4,294,000 and is one of the least populated countries in Africa. It is considered the fifth poorest country, despite being the oldest independent country.

The population suffers from poverty and hunger despite numerous political administrations and new policies being introduced. According to the United Nations’ The Food and Agriculture Organization, Liberia is a low-income and food-deficit country. Over half of the country’s population is food-insecure or highly vulnerable to food insecurity.

Twenty-nine percent of the population of the country live in Monrovia, for a total of 1,010,970 residents. At the turn of the century, 80 percent of the people living in the city were living in poverty. The gross national income is estimated at $790 USD annually. However, eighty-five percent of the population lives on less than one USD per day.

Conflict with q neighboring country, Sierra Leone, has had a major impact on the city. Despite the civil war that ended twelve years ago, the city still endures the effects. The constant turmoil between the two countries has caused the educational system to be broken down, abject poverty and inadequate educational access in these slums. The children of Monrovia continue to be subjected to the cycle of both poverty and illiteracy.

On the outskirts of the city, the agricultural sectors have major challenges that compound its poverty. There are low yields as a result of technological disadvantages. Inadequate roads and little to no access to markets limit the possible value chains. A majority of the people who live in these rural areas suffer from poverty.

In Monrovia, basic necessities are rarely available. Electricity and water resources are scarce and at best unreliable. Both the health care and social services are lacking. The GDP, the health expenditures is ten percent and the amount of health expenditures per capita is eight dollars USD annually. Slums are rampant with disease due to the flooding that has occurred. The streets of Monrovia are filthy, dangerous and unfinished, making it very unsafe to drive on them. The city lacks infrastructure and public transportation despite being the capital city. In Monrovia, the crime index is 82.81 and has a safety index of 17.19. Over the last three years, the crime rate has increased in the city.

Liberia is a country that is the home of many precious gem and diamond mines. Violent acts and war crimes are ongoing for power struggles over their control. This has left the city war-torn and vulnerable as a result of the exploitation of no true supply chain. The resource-rich country suffers from the pandemic of poverty and hunger. Monrovia is a city that depicts global poverty’s existence even in a naturally wealthy country.

Erika Wright

Sources: AllAfrica, Nations Encyclopedia, NUMBEO, Rural Poverty Portal, The Richest, WHO
Photo: Flickr

Sierra Leone Reports No New Ebola Cases
On August 17, Sierra Leone began to display signs of truly positive results — an epidemiological week had passed, and Sierra Leone reported no new Ebola cases since the beginning of the outbreak in 2014.

Efforts in Sierra Leone have now entered what is known as “Phase 3,” in which efforts are concentrated on swiftly closing any remaining chains of transmission that may remain. This procedure involves tracking down every single person who may have come into contact with the chain, monitor the subject for 21 days and immediately transfer them to a treatment center if symptoms begin to develop.

As of now, there exists only one remaining open chain that has its source in Freetown and extends into Tonkolili. The chain was carried via a young man who used to work in Freetown and returned home each month with food and money for his family.

Dr. Anders Nordstrom, WHO representative in Sierra Leone, asserts, “This is very good news but we have to keep doing this intensive working with communities to identify potential new cases early and to rapidly stop any Ebola virus transmission.”

The WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, has called for reforms throughout her organization in order to facilitate future preparations for potential similar outbreaks, “including the establishment of a global health emergency workforce, an operational platform that can shift into high gear quickly, performance benchmarks and avenues aimed at acquiring the needed funding.”

As recovery in West Africa begins, it is important not to forget that the outbreak had far-reaching consequences for many vulnerable populations. For example, 70,000 Liberian children were not registered at birth during the outbreak, leaving them “vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion,” as well as unable to access social services and healthcare, without official identity documentation and at risk of being trafficked or unlawfully adopted.

In 2013, before the outbreak took place, Liberia had about 79,000 registered births. In 2014, due to medical facilities’ closures, registered births decreased 39 percent to a mere 48,000. Sierra Leone also experienced the same drop in birth registrations during the outbreak, as demonstrated in a recent registration and vaccination campaign in which 250,000 children were in need of registration.

Jaime Longoria

Sources: UNICEF, UN News Centre, WHO
Photo: Flickr

Rebuilding Education in Sierra Leone
Before the Revolutionary United Front crossed from Liberia into Sierra Leone and started the 12-year war, Sierra Leone had one of the best education systems in Africa. Rebuilding education in Sierra Leone since has been a challenge and Ebola has made it even more difficult.

Only 48.09 percent of the population above the age of 15 in Sierra Leone are literate. Primary school enrollment is over 130 percent due to the amount of non primary school aged Sierra Leoneans who are attending classes because they missed out on educational services during the war. The UN estimates that 64 percent of primary aged children are enrolled in school.

During the 12 years of the war, there was no education unless the families fled to Guinea or Liberia. Out of the crisis of the civil war came an opportunity to ensure education would grow and enhance the livelihoods of Sierra Leoneans.

The Netherlands provided funding to the Cross Border Schools Project in Sierra Leone and has trained over 3,000 educators. After completing the training programs, teachers plan their own lessons and find their teaching methods are making a bigger impact.

Education in Sierra Leone is taken seriously by the government. Sierra Leone spends 14 percent of its national budget on education, which is much higher than most other countries in the region.

Other improvements have been made as well. 76 percent of Sierra Leonean children complete primary school and many go on to junior secondary education. However, 50 percent of primary school teachers still have no qualifications.

It cost $20 to send a Sierra Leonean to school and 70 percent of Sierra Leone families are living on less than a dollar a day. Poverty, child marriage, pregnancy and sexual abuse are the most significant barriers to education for girls in Sierra Leone.

UNICEF works on ensuring girls are attending school through building classrooms, providing sanitation facilities, training teachers and providing learning materials. The rights of girls in the classroom are protected through rights-based and gender-sensitive environments that helps girls succeed in the classroom.

Sierra Leone is still healing from the wounds left by the Revolutionary United Front during the civil war, but education is gradually improving and the youth are benefiting from the revival of education.

Donald Gering

Sources: Al Jazeera, Global Partnership, Social Progress Imperative, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2, UNICEF 3
Photo: Just Giving

world_food_program
The World Food Programme is waging war on hunger and fighting an uphill battle in six of the world’s hunger hot spots; Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Nepal and the Ebola-affected regions in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Most of the world’s population lives in developing countries. Many of them are mired in extreme poverty, with little hope of access to clean water and often reduced to scavenging for food in trash heaps lining their decrepit shanty town streets, just to feed their children. But in these six emergencies, the situation is even more urgent.

The World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian aid agency fighting hunger, is the food aid branch of the United Nations, working to address hunger across the globe and promoting food security. Workers are on the ground in these areas trying to ease the crisis by providing needy families with life-saving food.

In Syria, the WFP is struggling to meet food need demands, as nearly six million people have been displaced. The ongoing armed conflict in Syria has been growing worse and the situation steadily deteriorating. Although the WFP has been reaching approximately four million people using hand to mouth operations, funding is running low and the need is increasing drastically.

Iraq has been in crisis for years and continues to be. The recent upsurge in violence has left 1.8 million displaced without access to water or food. The WFP reports having reached out to about a million people since June, providing assistance.

Yemen is a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian emergency. With around half of all children under five being stunted (too short for their age), Yemen already stands as having one of the highest child malnutrition rates in the world. Millions of people are being cut off from basic human needs such as food, water and electricity as fighting persists and fuel shortages continue.

Although the food security threat in South Sudan has been stabilized for now, sustainable assistance is essential in the region as the situation remains extremely fragile. The WFP has been able to reach more than 2.5 million people this year but if fighting continues, the situation in South Sudan could turn into a full-blown catastrophe.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25th, 2015 devastated the region, leaving approximately eight million people affected and living without access to food, water or shelter. With the epicenter being just outside of Kathmandu, large populations were displaced and 30 out of 75 districts in the country were ruined. The Nepalese government issued a state of emergency and the WFP is currently in the country providing assistance.

The WFP has responded in force to the Ebola emergency plaguing West Africa and has met the needs of people affected by the outbreak since April in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Along with food assistance, the WFP is also helping get the humanitarian staff and equipment into the crisis zones.

According to www.worldhunger.org, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012 to 2014. Almost all the hungry people, 791 million, live in developing countries, representing 13.5 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing counties.

When disaster strikes or when war tears through a nation, humanity can be taken to the breaking point. With help from organizations like the World Food Programme, families fighting for survival can find some relief and possibly some hope.

Jason Zimmerman

Sources: WFP, World Hunger
Photo: Action Against Hunger

Youth

We are always told that children are the future; that to have a successful future we must invest in them, giving them the opportunities and the education they need and deserve. The youth makes up 43% of the world’s population. This means there is a large potential force out there that can change the world. Of these youth, 90% live in the developing world. That means there is a huge importance to reach these youths. If given the proper tools, they could change poverty in their countries.

Ensuring that children in developing nations have access to education is crucial. By attending school, boys and girls learn skills that enable them to find professions besides agriculture and mothering, respectively. It gives them a sense of empowerment and self-esteem.

Government leaders and organizations have seen success in addressing policies and programs for the young populations of their countries. The key is to “create and support the enabling conditions under which young people can act on their own behalf, and on their own terms.”

The United Nations has implemented Youth Empowerment and Employment Programs across the developing world. The programs work to provide business development and career advice to youth. There are three goals that the programs hope to address. First, institutional and policy development to ensure that government policies passed help youth gain employment. Second, the programs empower youth by creating and working with existing youth councils and youth leadership positions. Lastly, the programs provide employment and job experience by providing internships and directing student graduates to jobs.

In Sierra Leone, the results of these programs have been positive and have expanded businesses. In one community, there have been 204 jobs created, 400 students (half being women) supported to create their own businesses, and 150 interns placed in 20 institutions. Both men and women had access to the resources and saw success as the numbers show that about half of the empowered youth were women.

In the end, giving the youth education and training provided them opportunities to flourish. They were able to use their skills and make better lives for themselves. They were able to find jobs, which means that they were not left in dire poverty. Empowering the youth not only helps them to feel successful, but it also helps the local community by growing the economy.

Katherine Hewitt

Sources: OECD, UN, UNCSD 2012, UNDP
Photo: AANF

Fighting_Ebola_in_Sierra_LeoneIt is the holy month of Ramadan in Sierra Leone and attendance at religious services was up from the rest of the year on Friday. Sermons provide the best platform for educating the general population about the Ebola epidemic and religious leaders are using faith to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone.

In a country that has witnessed Ebola’s devastating effects, religious leaders from all walks of life have come together to work to end the epidemic. Of the 27,479 confirmed cases of Ebola reported by the World Health Organization, over 13,000 have been reported in Sierra Leone.

The Freetown-based NGP, Focus 1000 came up with the idea to use interfaith dialogue to educate citizens about the dangers of Ebola.  In a country that is 78 percent Muslim and 21 percent, Christian, it has been one of the most successful means of combating the deadly disease.

One of the main causes of the unprecedented spread of Ebola was the lack of understanding that Ebola spread through bodily fluids even after the victim had died. Muslim and Christian burial rites composed of family members washing the deceased patients. Coupled with mistrust of the government and aid worker’s body disposal protocols, it created a situation where infections were being passed along routinely.

Ramadan Jollah, the chief Imam of the Jam’iyatul Haq Mosque in Freetown explained, “Sierra Leone has a clear understanding of what religion really is — that religion is not there to create problems between people but instead to bring people together.” Together, Muslim and Christian leaders have used their anointed trust to help their communities follow health protocols.

The Imam has used verses of the Qur’an to appeal to Ebola prevention tactics. The Qur’an allows Muslims who are martyred to be buried in their clothing without being washed. He quotes the Prophet of Islam imploring Muslims to wash their hands regularly.

Similarly, Reverend Christiana Sutton-Koroma addresses her congregation in a small church. The Reverend quotes passages from the Bible’s Book of Numbers – prohibiting people from coming into contact with corpses that can infect them.

She dispels myths of burial washing and also avoiding seeking care in case of infection.  Members of her congregation take her message very serious and many go home to spread the message to their families, friends, and neighbors.

International NGOs such as World Vision have followed suit, creating venues for Muslim leaders to address Christian congregations and vice versa.  It is not uncommon in Sierra Leone to have multi-faith families.  Christians pray for their sick Muslim neighbors in churches and Muslims pray for their Christian counterparts in mosques.

The tactics are working. Sierra Leone, while having the most cases of confirmed Ebola, has also the least mortality percentage in comparison to their neighbors in Guinea and Liberia.  New cases have begun to rapidly decline.  In May 2015, the country declared itself Ebola-free for the first time.  Although it did not last long, progress is being made.

USAID has pledged to send the US $126 million to the three countries-Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea- to strengthen their health care systems by providing crucial support such as vaccines and vitamins.  The United Nations says US 88.1 million dollars is needed to support the “last mile” of the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  Foreign Aid, coupled with faith, is fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, and together they are winning.

– Adnan Khalid

Sources: Al Jazeera, Ebola Deeply, USAID, World Health Organization, World Vision International 1, World Vision International 2
Photo: Caritas

sierra_leone_banIn 2010, Sierra Leone banned visibly pregnant girls from attending school. Schools were shut down for nine months during the Ebola outbreak, but reopened again on April 14, 2015, with the ban still in place.

The ban is in effect because visibly pregnant girls supposedly set a bad example for their classmates. Sierra Leone’s minister of education, Minkailu Bah, argued that “innocent girls” could be influenced by those who are pregnant and pregnancy rates could increase.

Bah’s statement is far from the truth. Having pregnant classmates would most likely cause a drop in pregnancy rates. NPR explains that teen pregnancies in the United States dropped almost 6 percent from watching the MTV show, 16 and Pregnant. Girls who see their classmates pregnant would be less likely to become pregnant themselves.

Sierra Leone is one of the most dangerous places for expectant mothers, with high rates of maternal and child mortality. One-third of pregnant women in Sierra Leone are teenagers. The teenage pregnancy rates and incidences of maternal and child mortality were decreasing before Ebola, but have increased once again. Incidences of sexual violence rose during the Ebola epidemic, and girls, especially those who had lost a relative to Ebola, traded sex for supplies to help them survive.

The ban on educating pregnant girls is also detrimental because many girls see pregnancy as a turning point and are encouraged to work even harder to get an education because they know that they will have to support themselves as well as their children. The fact that girls who are inspired to get an education are not allowed to access it is extremely worrisome. If Sierra Leone lifts its ban, it will give these girls an opportunity to support themselves.

The ban also fails to acknowledge girls who are pregnant as a result of rape. Seventeen-year-old Isatu Gbanky was a student in Sierra Leone but was not allowed to return to school after it reopened because she was pregnant. Isatu said, “I was raped by a fellow student. He forced me to have sex while I was fetching water for my family. I hope the government makes an exception for girls like me.”

Isatu’s story is unfortunately not unique, but the government has yet to lift the ban on pregnancy for either rape victims or those who became pregnant through consensual sex. However, there is hope that the ban will end soon. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Irish Aid and the Department for International Development are working with Sierra Leone, and may be able to come to an agreement over a temporary solution which would involve pregnant girls getting a formal education outside the classroom. Since teenage pregnancy rates in Sierra Leone are so high, if this agreement is reached, it will be extremely significant for education levels throughout the country.

Pregnant girls attending school does not cause higher pregnancy rates. If Sierra Leone wants to lower its rate of teenage pregnancies, it needs to focus on making school cheaper and more accessible, rather than banning pregnant girls who want to attend. Girls who know that they can gain an education and have a future are less likely to get pregnant and more likely to focus on their schooling.

Ashrita Rau

Sources: The Guardian, NPR, VOA, NY Times
Photo: The Huffington Post

maternal_mortality
Sierra Leone, a small country on the West African coast, gained independence from Britain in 1961. Ranked as the least developed country in the world in 2007, poverty and maternal mortality are some of the main problems that Sierra Leone faces today.

As of 2010, Sierra Leone had a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 857 per 100,000 live births, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women to give birth. This high maternal mortality rate was mainly due to hemorrhages, a cause of 26 percent of maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Since Sierra Leone only collects annually one-forth of the blood it needs for transfusions, hemorrhages are a major danger during childbirth. Other contributors to the high MMR are obstructed labor, anemia and toxemia during pregnancy.

Approximately 73 percent of births in Sierra Leone occur in rural areas, where access to health care during pregnancy is normally limited and maternal healthcare does not have as many beneficial outcomes compared to healthcare in urban areas. Many women who need cesarean sections do not receive them, due to the fact that even if a birth attendant is present, many birth attendants are actually aides who do not have the qualifications to perform a cesarean section or to do other tasks that are necessary to help the mothers survive.

Maternal mortality is also prevalent because of a lack of sanitation. Traditional practices also play a cause, since many communities choose home-births instead of modern health care facilities.

Another cause of maternal mortality in Sierra Leone is the high rate of adolescent marriages. Forty-four percent of girls in Sierra Leone marry before they reach the age of 18. Adolescents are more likely to suffer during pregnancy and childbirth, as their bodies are normally not developed enough to carry a baby and deliver safely.

Contraceptive use is also not widespread in Sierra Leone, contributing to Sierra Leone’s high MMR. Only about 7 percent of women use contraceptives, leading to a high fertility rate of 5 children per woman. This contributes to more children and more pregnancy related complications.

In 2010, in order to reduce the MMR and the high rate of children’s deaths in Sierra Leone—almost one-third of children died before they reached their fifth birthday as of 2007—the government of Sierra Leone implemented a policy that would provide free healthcare for pregnant and lactating women and for children under the age of five. This policy led to increased amounts of antenatal care visits immediately after it was introduced, but antenatal care visits decreased once again a few months later, and the policy was not as impactful as hoped.

Therefore, despite the 2010 healthcare act, Sierra Leone is still facing high rates of maternal mortality and a high rate of deaths among children under 5. However, there is hope. Thanks to a now thriving mining industry and a GDP that is growing, Sierra Leone’s economy is looking up. Hopefully, these economic benefits can be invested in the healthcare industry and can help contribute to the supplies and care that pregnant women and their children need.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: The Borgen Project 1, The Borgen Project 2, Amnesty International, UNFPA, WHO 1, WHO 2, The Guardian, ICRW
Photo: Flickr

Sierra Leone
For some students in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, the nine months of not attending school were agonizing. These last months were filled with uncertainty about their communities as well as their own futures. Fortunately, with a sharp decline in reported cases of Ebola, Sierra Leone’s government has decided to reopen the nation’s schools, giving Sierra Leone’s 1.8 million children a safe environment where they can learn.

Ebola has claimed the lives of over 3,400 people in Sierra Leone and more than 10,500 throughout regions of West Africa. The effects on families have been devastating; at least 8,600 children have lost one or both parents to the virus.

UNICEF official reports said, “The Ebola epidemic has hit schoolchildren and teachers heavily. Preliminary results of a school needs assessment survey by the Government suggest that 181 teachers and 945 students died of Ebola virus disease, while 597 teachers and 609 students contracted the disease but survived.”

With major districts not having reported a new case in over 21 days and only 9 confirmed cases as of April 12, school-aged children are returning to classrooms in Sierra Leone amidst these positive indicators. Many schools opened their doors on April 13 and though the number of returning pupils is small, school officials expect numbers to grow as parents’ fears of infection subside and more people become aware of the precautions that are being taken.

With the help of UNICEF, Sierra Leone’s government has put into place the necessary precautions for avoiding the deadly Ebola virus. The first few days of school were spent learning about Ebola and other basic hygiene practices. Teachers and students are also being advised to avoid close, bodily contact and each morning as students arrive on campuses, their temperate is taken with a digital thermometer.

UNICEF reports, “UNICEF has supplied 24,300 handwashing stations to reduce the chances of infections. UNICEF has also trained 9,000 schoolteachers in Ebola prevention, safety guidelines and psycho-social support.”

Not attending school has had a variety of impacts on school-age children in Sierra Leone. Many students who returned to classes last week have forgotten a lot of material previously learned and teachers have spent a lot of time reviewing. Other students did not attend schools at all due to their responsibilities at home or working to support their families. However, UNICEF and Sierra Leone’s government has worked together to reduce these effects by providing radios and 41 radio stations that broadcast daily educational programs.

Not only are Sierra Leone schools pushing for the return of its students before the outbreak, but also for the enrollment of some 233,000 primary-school-age children who have never attended school. With the hope of boosting enrollment, Sierra Leone’s government has announced that it will pay school fees for the next two years.

Children throughout Sierra Leone are excited for the former glories of school to return, like playing games with one another and greeting their friends, but they are thankful that they are finally able to learn and dream about their futures again.

Candice Hughes

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, UNICEF, WHO
Photo: Flickr