Development cooperation between Iceland and Sierra Leone began in 2018 with Iceland‘s collaboration with the West African Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP), funded by the World Bank, with the overall objective of supporting the sustainable use of marine resources and enhancing livelihoods in fishing communities. Iceland supported a project component of piloting new, improved fish smoking ovens. Iceland’s focus has been on improving livelihoods in coastal communities through a holistic approach, including WASH and improved handling of fish catches in collaboration with UNICEF in the country and the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. Iceland has also, since 2020, supported the work of UNFPA in Sierra Leone for improved quality of life for girls and women living with obstetric fistula. This collaboration has been extended and in May 2022, an extensive project was officially launched with UNFPA which aims to support the authorities‘ objective of eliminating fistula in the country in the near future. Preparations are underway for the establishment of an Icelandic Embassy in Freetown.
The main modality of Iceland‘s bilateral development cooperation is a programme based approach at the district level and this approach will be explored in Sierra Leone but cooperation will at first be carried out primarily through and with multilateral organisations and civil society organisations in the country in collaboration with government authorities. The Icelandic Aurora Foundation, Barnaheill – Save the Children Iceland and the Icelandic Red Cross are implementing projects in Sierra Leone with financial support from the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The main focus in Icelandic bilateral development cooperation is to enhance livelihoods in the partner countries by supporting the development plans and efforts of national authorities to reduce poverty and improve socio-economic living standards. Iceland‘s development cooperation in Sierra Leone is carried out according to Iceland‘s current bilateral development cooperation strategy which is in line with Iceland‘s policy for international development cooperation which emphasizes a human rights based approach to development cooperation, enhancement of social infrastructure and gender equality.
Fisheries and the Blue Economy
The collaboration between Iceland and Sierra Leone started through collaboration under the WARFP, with the objective to enhance the quality and sustainable use of marine resources and improve people‘s livelihoods in rural and poor coastal fishing communities in a holistic manner. Piloting of improved fish smoking ovens was supported within the project. The new ovens were meant to increase the quality and therefore value of fish as well as being more energy-efficient, using less wood and reducing the pollution from the smoke which has negative impact on people‘s health. Improving social infrastructure in the fishing communities has also been a priority, especially access to water and sanitation facilities, which both enhances health and the quality of the fish processing. Capacity building of ministries and institutions has also been an important component for a more efficient and sustainable fisheries management, in collaboration with the GRÓ Fisheries Training Programme.
Cooperation with International Organisations
Emphasis is on utilizing expert knowledge and experience of Iceland‘s key partner multilateral organisations in development cooperation in Sierra Leone to promote progress in the country, in line with both countries‘ and the organisations‘ priorities.
Iceland started collaboration with UNICEF in Sierra Leone in 2018 by supporting a WASH project in three coastal villages. Towards the end of 2022 it was agreed to extend the project to more hard-to-reach villages and formal launch took place in February 2023. The objective is to increase access to improved water and sanitation facilities to reduce the transmission of waterborne diseases and improved livelihoods. A holistic approach is applied in the project and a particular focus is on enhancing living conditions of women and children in the communities. Schools and healthcare facilities will get access to improved water and sanitation, support to menstrual health of girls in schools will be provided through education and making menstrual hygiene kits available. In addition, access to and improved early childhood development (ECD) services will be provided through establishing and supporting ECD centres in the communities. Safety of community members will be enhanced with outdoor solar-powered lighting in public spaces, and fish landing platforms will be constructed for improved processing of fish products. Waste management and recycling will furthermore be supported through training of young people in the recycling of plastic and other waste for making of commodities to decrease plastic pollution around fish landing stations and strengthen economic activities and employment generation for young people. UNICEF will work together with line ministries, local authorities, NGOs/CSOs and contractors present in the country on the implementation of the project.
In May 2022, a partnership project with UNFPA on eliminating obstetric fistula in the country was officially launched in Freetown. The project builds on earlier collaboration where the aim was to prevent and cure fistula which delivered promising results. The work towards the project goal addresses the causes and consequences of fistula on the lives of women and girls in a holistic manner. This includes preventive actions for awareness raising and education, as well as improved access to perinatal health care services. Access to surgeries and rehabilitation will also be increased. In the implementation of the project, there is close collaboration with the Sierra Leonean health authorities and emphasis is placed on providing support to strengthen their capacity for improved maternal, sexual and reproductive services. UNFPA works with NGOs/CSOs which are present in the country on implementing the project. The project, which is one of UNFPA’s most extensive projects of this kind in West-Africa, has strong gender equality and human rights dimension as it aims, in particular, to target vulnerable girls and women from poor households, who are further marginalized due to their fistula condition.
In March 2023, collaboration with UNDP in Sierra Leone was formalised for the project “Fostering Peaceful, Credible and Inclusive Elections in Sierra Leone in 2022-2023”. A contribution to the project’s multi-donor basket fund supports the elections project as it works with the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) and other key stakeholders in the country. A trusted partner of the Government of Sierra Leone, UNDP has a well-established history of providing technical support to the country’s Election Management Bodies including during its most recent elections cycle in 2018. The project aims to not only promote and encourage the conduction of peaceful and inclusive elections but also to sustain peace and political trust in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is on the west coast of Africa and shares borders with Liberia, Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The capital is Freetown, and the World Bank estimates the total population to be at 8,1 million in 2021. The population is young, with 75% below the age of 35. The country measures 72,180 square kilometres, and the country is the most circular one on the world map. Sierra Leone is among the poorest countries in the world and is ranked 182 out of 189 countries on UN‘s Human Development Index (2020).
The country is rich in natural resources, including metals and minerals, and has a fertile ground. Sierra Leone is also known for its white sand beaches as well as mountainous areas and tropical forests and woodland. Being close to the equator, Sierra Leone is characterized by a humid tropical climate but seasons in the country are split in two; the rainy season and the dry season, which includes the Harmattan season, or the Harmattan winds, which blow dust and sand from the Sahara Desert over West-Africa, typically from November until March. The country is moreover one of the most sensitive on the African continent in the face of climate change challenges. Floods and landslides have increasingly occurred in the last years, with disastrous consequences.
Fishing is an important economic activity, accounting for around 10% of GDP. The fisheries sector directly employs around 100 thousand people and an estimated half a million people rely on the fisheries resource for their livelihood. Exports of seafood and agricultural produce is however largely limited, and the population‘s food and nutritional security is poor, especially outside the capital region. Rice is the staple food in Sierra Leone and is grown using small scale farming, but the country is largely dependent on imported goods, with rice being the main import. With the relatively weak Sierra Leonean currency and an overall sensitive economy, global fluctuations can hence have a significant impact on both food security and economic prosperity.
An eleven-year civil war in the country came to an end in 2002 which had a major impact on human and economic development in the country and the Ebola virus epidemic swept the country with drastic consequences when the economy was getting back on track, with the country declaring to be Ebola-free in March 2016. The Covid-19 pandemic yet again slowed down development and economic progress in the country declined.