The Costs of Long-Term Civil War

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, following its peaceful transition to independence from British rule, Sierra Leone prospered. Farmers exported their surplus crops. Mining companies hauled rich loads of diamonds, bauxite and titanium ore from government-owned lands.
  • By the 1980s, however, the government had become corrupt and increasing numbers of Sierra Leoneans, disenchanted. Tensions mounted, exploding in 1991 into years of political instability and intermittent civil war — including vicious atrocities and other forms of severe human-rights abuse.
  • At the hands of terrorist rebels, tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been slaughtered; 100,000 have been mutilated; and more than one million have fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries. The economy is in ruins. The infrastructure has been destroyed. The United Nations now describes Sierra Leone as “the poorest country in the world.”

Humanitarian Aid to the Innocent Victims of war

Bendu and Sallay are Sierra Leonean women, who had been forced to flee their home village to escape rebel violence. They hid in the countryside for a month. “There was no food,” Sallay remembers, “and no medicine. In the bush, we were half dead. Our children were very sick. We didn't think we would come out alive.” Yet they did come out alive and returned home. Their village had been all but destroyed, and most of their friends and family members killed. Africare helped the women, their children and other surviving villagers to resettle and begin basic activities, like farming, to become self-reliant again.

Africare has provided emergency humanitarian aid to the innocent victims of civil war in Sierra Leone — people like Bendu and Sallay — since 1991, when the violence began.

Aid has focused on the Eastern and Southern provinces, at camps where war-displaced people have fled. “The camps each contain as many as 30,000 people, huddled in makeshift mud-brick, plastic and thatched huts,” reports an Africare field worker.

Africare gives medical aid to mothers, fathers, children and the elderly, who often arrive at the camps exhausted, malnourished and ill.

In addition, Africare helps these homeless people — who are mainly farmers — to produce subsistence crops in fields near the camps or in villages where, safety permitting, they may return.

All told, several hundred thousand people have received medical, food and agricultural aid from Africare to date.

  • Mobile clinics and clinics at the camps address the immediate health problems of the newly displaced. They also ensure reliable care for pregnant women, infants and young children, and others with special ongoing needs.
  • Displaced farm families have succeeded in cultivating tens of thousands of acres of rice, groundnuts, cassava, sweet potato and vegetables. They feed themselves and, in a great accomplishment, they produce small surpluses for sale.
  • With Africare's help, village blacksmiths are getting back on their feet and providing locally appropriate tools at prices farmers can afford.
  • Small enterprises run by women, with assistance from Africare, have begun generating much-needed income and providing broken families — whose fathers were killed in the war, whose elderly have died, who urgently need to support the traumatized and the maimed — with a means to provide for themselves.

“I shall never forget the day I spent in July in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone,” wrote U.N. Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan in an editorial in The Washington Post (Aug. 1, 1999). He writes of meeting an 86-year-old woman, then a two-year-old girl, who had been gruesomely maimed in a rebel attack. “These atrocities were done in cold blood to terrorize the population. As a result, almost a quarter of Sierra Leone's 4.5 million people are now refugees. What comfort can we offer such people?”

Africare and other international assistance agencies, working together in war-torn places like Sierra Leone, offer the comfort of immediate help and the hope that comes from regained self-reliance.

Other Humanitarian Relief Projects

  • Africare has worked on the front lines of assistance to the people of Angola since 1990. Most recently, field staff have focused on vaccinations, food distributions, aid to “street children,” and landmine education and clearance.
  • Africare has aided refugees from the ongoing violence in Sudan since 1993. As part of this effort, Africare is helping 33,000 Sudanese to resettle and become self-reliant again near the village of Mboki, in the Central African Republic, where they had fled.
  • Africare has managed the Mtabila refugee camp, just beyond the Burundian border in Tanzania, since 1996. The camp is home to more than 50,000 refugees from Burundi, who remain threatened by the violence at home. Africare field workers continue to build shelters, hand out food, help refugees grow their own food, teach camp inhabitants new skills and run camp schools.