Country facts

  • Total Population: 8.3 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 5,500
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 181 of 191

IRC response

  • Started work in Sierra Leone: 1999

Sierra Leone crisis briefing

Located in West Africa, Sierra Leone is a small country with complex challenges. Following a decade of civil war between 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone experienced positive improvements in political stability and infrastructural development. However, the fatal outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2014 strained health systems, contributed to an economic crisis and increased rates of gender-based violence in the country. The impacts of Ebola, alongside the global challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, have made Sierra Leone vulnerable to further crises.

The IRC works with communities across Sierra Leone to strengthen vital health and education services, provide livelihood opportunities to youth, and empower women and girls.

What caused the current crisis in Sierra Leone?

Between 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone was engaged in a violent civil war that displaced two million people, killed more than 50,000 and fostered widespread human rights abuses.

Following the end of the war, Sierra Leone began to make great strides in reconstruction and peacebuilding. However, the arrival of the Ebola epidemic in March 2014 strained resources and worsened long-standing economic and social challenges. The disease claimed nearly 4,000 lives in Sierra Leone.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and the global fallout from the war in Ukraine have contributed to social and economic issues in Sierra Leone. Unemployment rates and inflation continue to rise alongside the cost of living, while significant spikes in the prices of fuel and commodities have contributed to civil unrest in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. Gender-based violence and barriers to women’s and children’s rights also persist in the country.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Sierra Leone?

Sierra Leone’s health and education systems are overstretched. The country has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world while just 43% of its adult population is literate.

Gender barriers to education, equal employment and political participation have hampered development. Sierra Leone scores poorly on the Gender Inequality Index, ranking 181st of the 191 countries included and has a high rate of gender-based violence.

Health crises, conflict, corruption, poor infrastructure and high inflation have contributed to these challenges and increased humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone.

How does IRC help in Sierra Leone?

The IRC began implementing emergency operations in 1999, during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Since then, we have continued to provide aid to the country’s most vulnerable communities. IRC programming supports rebuilding and strengthening health and education services, while actively promoting women’s and girls’ protection and empowerment.

IRC projects are being implemented nationwide focusing on:

  • Supporting children and vulnerable groups, such as young mothers and girls affected by violence, in accessing quality education and future employment opportunities.
  • Improving health outcomes for pregnant women, new mothers and their children with a wide range of health services.
  • Supporting Sierra Leone’s national COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
  • Addressing the economic challenges exacerbated by COVID-19 by helping women develop their entrepreneurial skills and supporting their access to financial services and products to meet their families’ needs.
  • Empowering adolescent girls through education programs, gender-based violence prevention resources and outreach that equips their families and communities to better value and support them. 
  • Strengthening infection prevention and control measures and resilience across twenty health facilities.