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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a Key Partner Country for Irish Aid, demonstrating our commitment to supporting the successful transition of countries such as Sierra Leone, which are emerging from conflict or significant humanitarian crises.  Ireland opened a diplomatic and development aid mission in Freetown in 2005, which has since been upgraded to an Embassy (in 2014).  Sierra Leone, located on the west coast of Africa, is a country of similar size and population to Ireland.  Ireland has been supporting the people of Sierra Leone to rebuild their country since the end of an eleven year civil war in 2002.  Our main focus areas are improving the health and nutrition of the poorest communities and promoting women's rights, and we work in close co-operation with the Government of Sierra Leone, the UN and a range of non-governmental organisations to support long-term reconstruction and development. A significant recent focus has been the Ebola response programme.

Woman at Panlap - UNFPA Gates teenage Girls Education programme, Makeni Town, Sierra Leone. Africa 2019. © Phil Behan - DFAT

Woman at Panlap - UNFPA Gates teenage Girls Education programme, Makeni Town, Sierra Leone. Africa 2019.‌ © Phil Behan - DFAT

  • Overview
  • Background
  • Our Work
  • Results


Population: 6.1 million
Proportion of population living on less than $1.25 a day: 56.6%
 Ranking on UN Human Development Index: 183 out of 186
 Partner Country since:   2013

Women's empowerment in Kunike Barina Chiefdom, Tonkolili Region, Sierra Leone. Africa 2019. © Phil Behan - DFAT

Women's empowerment in Kunike Barina Chiefdom, Tonkolili Region, Sierra Leone. Africa 2019. © Phil Behan - DFAT

The Irish Aid programme in Sierra Leone is focused on reducing gender inequality, improving the nutritional status of women and children, and enhancing conditions for fair elections and the enjoyment of human rights

Irish Aid works to achieve these outcomes by strengthening government systems and supporting civil society actions. The Irish Aid programme also includes a small allocation to respond to and reduce the risk of disaster. For example, following the severe flooding and landslide that devastated Freetown in 2017, Irish Aid supported Freetown City Council’s flood mitigation plan in 2018.

A five-year programme from 2019-2023 is currently being developed.



Sierra Leone achieved independence from the UK in 1961 and was ruled by one party from 1968-1992. Between 1991 and 2002, the country was devastated by a brutal war. The conflict left more than 50,000 people dead, much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed, and over two million people displaced in neighbouring countries. 

Since the end of the conflict in 2002, Sierra Leone has made considerable progress towards peace and development. The security situation in the country is stable.  Sierra Leone is currently ranked 140 of 185 in the World Bank’s Doing Business report and ranks as one of the top reformers since 2005 in terms of improving business regulation for domestic firms, and simplifying procedures for property registration.  The country is abundant in natural resources, including bauxite, rutile, iron ore, diamonds and gold. There is also good rainfall and agricultural potential. 

However, significant economic and development challenges continue to face the country as it builds systems and services for its people. Some of the ongoing challenges include extremely low levels of human development, significant gaps in basic service delivery, a lack of employment opportunities, low incomes and widespread corruption.  On top of this, the Ebola epidemic, which struck Sierra Leone in 2014, has significantly set back the country’s development agenda.

 The Cotton Tree is a Freetown Landmark. Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is ranked 183 out of 187 countries on the 2014 United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) - Ireland is currently ranked 11. More than half of the population of Sierra Leone lives on less than €1 a day, life expectancy is 48 years old and two out of five Sierra Leoneans over the age of 15 cannot read and write. The infant mortality rate is extremely high at 119 deaths per 1,000 live births and the under-five mortality rate is 185 per 1,000 live births, the highest in the world. 44% of children in the country are considered moderately or severely stunted, a form of malnutrition.  The situation of women is particularly difficult with only one in ten girls finishing secondary school and high rates of teenage pregnancy - half of Sierra Leone’s girls are pregnant or already have children by the age of 18.  

Sierra Leone has a heavy dependency on foreign aid. There are a number of European companies heavily invested in the mining and large-scale farming sectors with access to significant resources. 

A girl walks down Kroobay Alley in Freetown, Sierra Leono. Photo: Irish Aid / Paul Sheehan

Our Work

Reducing gender inequality

Teenage years are a perilous time for girls in Sierra Leone. 46% of young women aged 15-19 have experienced physical violence while 50% of teenage girls have experienced forceful sexual relations. 47% of maternal deaths in Sierra Leone are teenagers, with 13% of girls married by age 15 and 28% of girls having their first child between the ages of 15 and 19. These societal pressures on girls are leading contributors to early school-leaving.

Irish Aid is committed to helping teenage girls in Sierra Leone access the health and life skills information they need. In 2017, through a partnership with UNFPA, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee , Irish Aid supported 33,000 adolescent girls to access health and life skills information, and 2,448 survivors of sexual violence to access medical and psychosocial support services through Sierra Leone’s Rainbo Centres

In partnership with UNFPA, Irish Aid supported access to health care and psychosocial support for 14,500 pregnant girls enabling them to continue their education in learning centres. 58% of these girls returned to school, compared to a national rate of just 23% of young mothers.

Ireland is supporting a review of the National Teenage Pregnancy and Child Marriage Reduction Strategy in an effort to effectively tackle the root causes of early pregnancy and child marriage.

Group of children in school uniforms outside Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: Irish Aid

Improving nutrition of women and children

Prior to the devastating Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone had made substantial progress in terms of public health since the end of the civil war. However, health services in the country were overwhelmed by the scale of the Ebola crisis in 2014. Quarantine restrictions and increased household poverty affected food production and distribution and impacted acute and chronic under nutrition, in a country where almost a third of children are chronically malnourished, resulting in stunted growth. While there has been some reduction in malnutrition rates since 2005, it remains a significant contributor to child deaths.

Ireland collaborates with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to tackle malnutrition in Sierra Leone. In 2017, Irish Aid supported the research and publication of the National Nutrition Survey. The survey supplies the Government of Sierra Leone and health sector partners with timely and accurate information about the severity and geographical distribution of malnutrition in Sierra Leone.  Ireland’s collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation also includes scaling up nutrition counselling in maternal and child health services.

Ireland is also engaged in piloting innovative approaches for food security and good nutrition, including the introduction of Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato and programmes to integrate community-level agriculture, water and sanitation and natural resource management.

Members of a Savings and loans group, organised by Concern with funding from Irish Aid.

Enhancing conditions for fair elections and human rights

Sierra Leone has made extraordinary progress to consolidate peace and democracy since the end of its civil war in 2002, with successful elections signifying this consolidation. Since the signing of the Lomé Peace accord in 1999, Sierra Leone has been supported by the United Nations to conduct elections. However, in 2018, the Government of Sierra Leone delivered Presidential, Parliamentary and local elections that relied on less international support than ever before. Over 80% of voters turned out for two rounds of elections in March 2018 that resulted in the second democratic transition of power in Sierra Leone in the post-civil war period. This is a remarkable achievement that Ireland was proud to support.

Irish Aid assistance, through the UNDP, enabled the National Electoral Commission to deliver key processes to ensure a credible and inclusive election. These included: registration of voters and provision of voter information, management of election results, measures to empower women and people with disabilities as voters, candidates and election managers and make polling centres more accessible to persons with disabilities.


Since the outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone in 2014, Ireland has been working closely to assist the country in its response.   This is reflected in our annual plan for 2015 which is aligned with the priorities of the Sierra Leone Government’s Ebola recovery and transition plans, while maintaining a focus on some longer term governance and development priorities which remain crucial for the country.  The total budget for the bilateral programme this year is €8 million.  The goal of the 2015 programme is three-fold;

  1. To contribute to the national goal of reaching zero cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone
  2. To reduce the secondary impacts of Ebola, in particular within the nutrition/food security and gender sectors; and 
  3. To strengthen accountability mechanisms in the transition to long-term development 

Results from the Irish Aid Country Programme Investment include:

  • Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone declared over by WHO in November 2015
  • Children cured of Sever Acute Malnutrution in Sierra Leone rose from 93.2% in July 2014 to 95.4% in March 2015
  • The percentage of health clinics providing treatment for severe acute malnutrition in Sierra Leone has risen from 21% to 38% with the support of Irish Aid.
  • There has been an increase in the number of children treated for severe acute malnutrition from 2,950 in 2007 to over 26,000 children in 2012.
  • Since 2010 the number of children receiving all basic vaccinations before 12 months has risen from 40% to 70% with the support of Irish Aid and other donors.
  • Twenty-two agricultural business centres (ABCs) were constructed and equipped in Bo and Bonthe districts since 2010 with Irish funds. These centres provide processing and marketing opportunities for farmers. 2,100 farmers have been trained in business skills. Impact studies at community level in the Irish Aid funded districts show that 91% of participating farmers report higher incomes and improved household food security thanks to their participation in the ABC, mainly due to increased production and yields.
  • Between 2010 and 2013, 3,490 survivors of sexual assault received treatment and support at Irish-funded Rainbo centres in Freetown, Kenema and Kono, and at Kailahun Government Hospital
  • Data captured by voter registration equipment purchased with Irish Aid funds was considered a success and contributed to credible elections in 2012.
  • The rate of stunting in Sierra Leone decreased by 37.4% in 2008 to 28.8% in 2014
  • The rate of immunisation of children aged 12 to 23 months rose from 40% in 2008 to 68% in 2014

Irish Aid Annual Report 2017 details the many results delivered through Ireland's aid programme, Irish Aid, across our partner countries, including Mozambique, in 2017. It includes key policy developments, and details of Irish Aid expenditure across the world.

Read more about our work to reduce hunger

Visit our Hunger section to learn more about our approach to this immense challenge.