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photo: young man at soldier through broken window

Once conflict ends, the focus must be on moving quickly from humanitarian relief to longer-term development.

Since 1980, nearly half of all low-income countries have experienced a major conflict and have had to confront the demands of rebuilding their economies and helping people cope with the damage to their lives.

World Bank research has found that, on average, such countries face a 44 percent chance of suffering a return to conflict within the first five years of peace. The Bank joins with many other groups to help conflict-affected countries restart development, particularly by encouraging a consensus approach in the drafting of poverty reduction strategies.

A key challenge for countries emerging from war is to shift from a short-term focus on rebuilding, to the longer-term goal of poverty reduction. In Sierra Leone, the government is working with the World Bank and other groups—from local communities to the United Nations—to move from early gains in resettlement and reconstruction to long-term development.

By the time of the Lomé Peace Accords in 1999, the population of Sierra Leone had suffered three decades of civil war that had pushed their living standards to among the lowest in the world. Between 1971 and 1989, gross domestic product per capita fell by 37 percent. Spending was concentrated in the capital city of Freetown. Rural services were neglected and agriculture was heavily taxed. The result was a huge redistribution of income away from the rural poor.

As the share of the population living in poverty reached 82 percent, the war intensified, propelled by a grab for control of the country's extensive diamond resources. Twenty thousand people were killed, 1.2 million were forced from their homes. Life expectancy fell to just over 38 years compared with 49 years for the rest of Sub- Saharan Africa.

With a return to peace in 1999, the government and the World Bank cooperated on a plan to disarm, demobilize and return soldiers to their communities. The Bank also helped efforts to resettle the enormous number of civilians displaced over the past decade.

Now the Bank is working with the government to address post-conflict development challenges. In 2003, the Bank agreed to provide $105 million to help Sierra Leone meet these challenges, including $40 million in grants. This support will give the poor more influence over spending priorities, particularly through the creation of community investment funds targeted at improving basic local services, such as health and education.

In November 2002, the Bank and the United Nations co-hosted a meeting of nongovernmental organizations, aid donors, and private companies. They pledged $650 million for poverty reduction, and formed the Development Partnership Committee to set targets and measure progress in the fight against poverty in Sierra Leone.

These efforts have had early success. All 220,000 internally displaced people and more than 440,000 refugees have been resettled. Almost 400,000 people—8 percent of the population—have benefited from the Community Reintegration and Rehabilitation Project, which the Bank cofinanced with the African Development Bank. Primary school enrollments have risen steadily since the 1990s and child immunization rates have risen to 52 percent from 30 percent. There have been major increases in land under cultivation, and registered exports have risen by a third.

Key challenges remain and developments over the next few years will determine whether Sierra Leone can leave conflict behind. The national poverty reduction strategy, instrumental in promoting recent progress, provides the framework for the transition from humanitarian relief to long-term development assistance.

To support this shift, the government is backing programs to restore the judiciary, attack corruption, improve service delivery to the poor, and decentralize government. Further strengthening of national institutions to ensure security will continue to be vital, as will be ensuring the complete disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former soldiers. Progress in these areas will have a ripple effect, increasing the effectiveness of other support efforts in Sierra Leone.

Post-Conflict Fund

Innovative work in uncertain and fragile conflict-affected societies is often not possible through normal sources of Bank funding. In 1997, the Post-Conflict Fund was established to provide grants to support countries in the transition from conflict to sustainable peace and economic growth.

The Fund makes grants to a wide range of partners: United Nations agencies, transitional authorities, governmental institutions, local and international nongovernmental organizations, and civil society groups, to provide early and broad assistance to conflict-affected countries. Grants are focused on restoring the lives and livelihoods of war-affected populations. The emphasis is on speed and flexibility, without sacrificing quality.

Helping conflict-affected countries is a difficult and demanding task-the Fund currently supports 67 projects in 24 countries-including reconstruction in Afghanistan, rebuilding basic infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo, reintegrating refugees in Croatia, restoring the health sector in Somalia, and providing safety nets for war widows in Indonesia.

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