Freetown, 27 January 2010 – Overcoming poverty in Sierra Leone will be important for consolidating its peace because conflict had inflicted a heavy toll on infrastructure, basic services and traditional job-generating sectors like agriculture and fisheries, said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick.
“I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Sierra Leone’s work on agriculture, feeder roads, youth employment and energy provision as progress in these areas will be important in overcoming poverty and supporting peace” said Zoellick, after meeting here with Sierra Leone President Ernest Koroma and his cabinet.
On the first leg in a visit to Africa that will also take him to Cote d’Ivoire and Ethiopia, Zoellick voiced the Bank's support for the planned launch in April of free access to health care for children and pregnant and lactating mothers. “Free access to health care for children and pregnant and lactating women is an important step in addressing the high child and maternal mortality in the country,” Zoellick said.
He told reporters his visit had been to discuss with Koroma and his cabinet the acceleration of reforms, including public sector reform, with governance improvements and capacity building at their heart.
Like Rwanda and Mozambique, Sierra Leone’s transition from emergency assistance to post-conflict reconstruction demonstrates the possibilities for countries to recover from conflict with investment and well-targeted development assistance that focuses on stimulating private sector-led growth, and on strengthening institutions that are more accountable to citizens and are able to improve the lives of the poor.
Zoellick pledged the World Bank’s support for expanding transparency and accountability when he met representatives of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission, the donor community, the private sector and civil society. This should improve good governance of the natural resources sector, including newfound oil, to prevent a relapse into conflict fueled by sales of minerals. He also pledged Bank support so that the poor can benefit from these new resources.
After seeing the Bumbuna 1 Hydroelectric Project by helicopter, the World Bank President praised donor cooperation on the project, and said the World Bank would work with others to increase access to electricity in the country, where only five percent of the population are on the grid. The lack of power is a major impediment to Sierra Leone’s economic growth, particularly in the industrial and service sectors. The completion of the first phase of the project brought a reliable supply of more affordable power to Sierra Leone in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner, reducing reliance on a multitude of expensive and polluting private generators.
Future hydropower generation on a large scale, under Bumbuna 2, could see electricity supplied to neighboring countries, generating export earnings for Sierra Leone, and fostering regional integration.
“Large-scale energy projects, such as Bumbuna, can be complemented by programs to assist the productivity of small-scale agriculture, which is the source of livelihood for most Sierra Leoneans,” Zoellick said. During a visit to Kasokra Village near Bumbuna, Zoellick saw swamp rice cultivation, the agricultural mainstay of the country, supported by the safeguards and resettlement activities of the Bumbuna Project that helped protect biodiversity, agricultural productivity and food security for nearby subsistence farmers.
Employing two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s labor force and accounting for 50 percent of its economy, agriculture is a priority for the government, especially since the global food crisis. Agricultural was badly hit during the civil war. Rice production, for example, fell by more than 50 percent.
Zoellick visited the historic fishing village of Tombo on the Freetown peninsula because fishing accounts for 10 percent of Sierra Leone’s economy. Artisanal fishing, such as practiced in Tombo, employs 30,000 full-time and 200,000 part-time workers and contributes just under US$75 million to the Sierra Leone economy, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization. But local fishing businesses are struggling with stiff competition from industrial-scale trawlers that fish illegally, depressing local fish stocks, and from high fuel prices. Zoellick pledged World Bank support for regional pacts to curb illegal fishing.
Zoellick left Sierra Leone for Cote d’Ivoire, the second stop of his three-nation African visit. He was accompanied by the World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, Obiageli Ezekwesili. From Cote d’Ivoire, he will travel to Ethiopia for the third and final stage of his visit.