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Blood, diamonds and hunger

WFP helped feed victims throughout Sierra Leone's long-running civil war and it is contributing to recovery. Hilary Heuler looks at WFP operations in this west African country.

WFP helped feed victims throughout Sierra Leone's long-running civil war and it is contributing to recovery. Hilary Heuler looks at WFP operations in this west African country.

Filled with images of amputated limbs and children carrying AK47s, the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone is one which stunned the outside world by its sheer brutality and indiscriminate violence.

It can still be difficult to believe that such ugliness was made possible by trading weapons for diamonds, the very same ones we wear on our fingers in the West.

Copyright: Benetton/Jim Mollison
Kadiatu and her son Ibrahim

One of the rebels’ first priorities was to capture the country’s diamond mines so they could swap the gems for arms.

Amputation

Then they set about terrorising its people. People like Kadiatu, whose legs were chopped off by the rebels.

She spent an agonising night with her seven-month-old son lying among the dead shot by the rebels.

After a hospital stay where her legs were amputated higher up due to gangerene, Kadiatu went to Grafton Settlement Camp where she received WFP rations of bulgar wheat, pulses, vegetable oil and salt.

Throughout the 1990s, aid agencies such as WFP fought to provide relief to the millions of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire to give them a chance at survival.

Supporting peace

Now that the war has finally ended, WFP is still working to offer the support necessary for the ravaged country to return to self-sufficiency and achieve a lasting peace.

Between 1991 and 2002, an estimated 1.5 million Sierra Leoneans were forced to flee their homes as rebel forces tore through the countryside, burning villages, killing civilians and destroying the survivors’ ability to support themselves.

WFP staff often risked their own lives to do so. Frequent attacks on humanitarian workers were a part of an escalating culture of violence from which no one was entirely protected.

Refugees

During the first part of the war, WFP’s focus was simply on getting food to those who needed it most, as the constantly growing refugee population meant that more and more people were far from their fields and struggling to feed themselves.

Free food was distributed to refugees and to internally-displaced people living from hand-to-mouth in camps, and therapeutic and supplementary feeding helped save the lives of those who had fallen into serious malnutrition through prolonged hunger.

As the humanitarian situation began to stabilise, WFP was able to concentrate its efforts on recovery strategies for Sierra Leone and the rest of the war-torn region.

Largest WFP operations

By 2003, WFP’s operations in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea were the largest and most prolonged operations in West Africa, providing food aid and development assistance to 750,000 people.

Since then, people have started to return to their homes and emergency support to refugees and the displaced is being phased out.

Today, recovery efforts in Sierra Leone are focused mainly on providing “safety nets” for a traumatised population determined to get back on its feet.

Harvests and education

As farmers begin once again to harvest their own crops, WFP runs school feeding programmes in primary schools to help lay that essential cornerstone of sustainable development: education.

In areas where local agriculture is not yet adequate to feed entire villages, WFP provides food-for-work and food-for-training activities to support people as they rebuild their country’s infrastructure and agricultural capacity.

And for breast-feeding mothers and children under five, often those who suffer most from an irregular food supply, WFP still offers the nutritional support and supplementary feeding necessary to ensure the health of the next generation.

Funds for 2007

The groundwork for regional rehabilitation has been laid. However, WFP’s recovery project in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea still faces a shortfall of US$37 million, funds that must be raised to allow these efforts to continue through 2007.

After years of unimaginable hardship, Sierra Leoneans are looking forward to putting the past behind them and rebuilding their lives. WFP and its partners hope to be in a position to help them do so.