Years of civil war in Sierra Leone have destroyed social infrastructure and aggravated the endemic poverty that was prevalent before the war. Post-war recovery programmes have brought some respite to many communities since 2000. Nevertheless, poverty is persistent, leaving many poor and vulnerable persons in need of humanitarian assistance. The needs of vulnerable groups (including Sierra Leonean returnees and IDPs, as well as amputees, orphaned and separated children, and ex combatants) are many and remain largely unmet, as the focus has largely shifted to rehabilitation and community work.
Addressing the needs of vulnerable groups in the years ahead is a challenge for the government and international community if Sierra Leone is to continue towards stability and recovery. It was against this background that, in 2005, the UNCT requested OCHA to maintain a Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer, who was supported by one national officer, in the office of the RC/HC to support coordination issues related to contingency planning, monitoring of residual humanitarian needs and response in the event of natural disaster.
- Enhance humanitarian strategic planning and coordination by ensuring that gaps and residual humanitarian needs are continuously identified
- Support the HC and UNCT in monitoring internal and external factors that may affect peace and stability in the country
- Support the capacity of the Government of Sierra Leone to respond to disasters
- Advise on policy issues related to humanitarian principles
OCHA worked closely with the Government of Sierra Leone through the year to support, strengthen and reactivate sector working groups. It also worked with the NGO Coordinator’s Desk in the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning (MODEP) to develop a database on the NGOs in the country, and played a crucial role in advocating for NGO involvement in humanitarian and recovery activities at all levels.
OCHA Sierra Leone initiated and organised several joint inter-agency field assessment missions to the vulnerable districts Kambioa and Port Loko, and flood-affected Pujehun. The outputs of the interagency joint assessment missions were used for the elaboration of long-term development programmes aimed at addressing underlying vulnerabilities.
In collaboration with ICRC and the UNCT, the office organised a training workshop on International Humanitarian Law in December that targeted top government officials. In addition, OCHA organized training, in collaboration with UNAMSIL and the International Military Assistance Training Team, for 29 senior officers of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces. The training topics included humanitarian principles and international standards, human rights, child protection, women’s rights and gender issues.
The office actively assisted the government in drafting a concept paper on the establishment of an effective Disaster Management and Emergency Unit in the Office of the President. The document will help the government in its efforts to set up a Disaster Management and Emergency Unit (DEMU) and to ensure that similar structures are established at district level.
In August and September, following floods in Pujehun District, OCHA coordinated the humanitarian response in collaboration with the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), the Office of National Security (ONS), UN Agencies and humanitarian organisations. OCHA also made available an emergency cash grant of US$ 76,000 for the procurement of relief items to address life-saving needs.
The government’s capacity to respond to disasters is weak and, in 2005, the Office of National Security created the Disaster Management Unit with the responsibility of coordinating disasters in the country. OCHA worked with the unit and other stakeholders throughout the year to develop a national disaster management policy.
The development of that policy, on which OCHA is working closely with the government and other stakeholders, is at an advanced stage. The document is now being shared with officers of ONS at the provincial and district level to get inputs from local authorities and communities in order to ensure ownership. A national consultative workshop will be held to validate the document before submission to parliament for approval. The second phase of the process is to develop a national disaster response plan.
OCHA assisted the UNCT and partners in preparing an inter-agency contingency plan for Sierra Leone. Several meetings were convened between the UN, NGOs and the government to discuss recent events/trends; identify likely and worst-case scenarios; consider consequences, assumptions and triggering mechanisms; and agree on the most appropriate responses.
The Humanitarian Coordination Unit (HCU-OCHA) in Sierra Leone, in supporting the office of the RC/HC and the UNCT, commissioned a consultant on Rapid Gaps Analysis in Vulnerability Assessment Mapping to examine, review and identify gaps from several studies undertaken by the UNCT on vulnerability during the past three years. The final report provided clear direction and guidance on identified gaps and made recommendations for a comprehensive VAM study. The UNCT decided to have the VAM study undertaken during the first quarter of 2006 by staff from WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR, NGOs and government counterparts. The results will help enhance the targeting of the most vulnerable groups countrywide with adequate and timely humanitarian and development assistance.
OCHA’s main challenge was to ensure that humanitarian needs remained on the agenda as the country moved from transition to long-term development. The UNCT did not issue a CAP in 2005 and, consequently fundraising for residual humanitarian activities was difficult. There is glaring evidence that many communities in Sierra Leone (including settlements very close to the capital) are in desperate need of social services, such as safe drinking water and health facilities.
The office was active in monitoring the humanitarian situation, supporting the preparation of the UN contingency plan and providing advice on humanitarian policy issues. The contingency plan, accomplished in coordination with the country programmes of Côte d'Ivoire and its five neighbouring countries, helped prepare humanitarian agencies in case of a deterioration of the crisis there. It led to better understanding and division of roles and responsibilities, and the establishment of standard operating procedures in case of a new outbreak of violence triggering new outflows of refugees to Sierra Leone.
The training provided on IHL contributed to increased awareness and understanding of the implementation of the conventions and international laws in the country among government and military officials, according to post-training evaluation. The end of 2005 saw four months to run on the assignment of OCHA’s humanitarian affairs officer. Humanitarian coordination responsibilities are due be taken over by UNDP in 2006.