Sierra Leone

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CRS in Sierra Leone

Country Context


Sierra Leone is blessed with numerous natural resources; however, more than 60% of the population in the country lives below the national poverty line. After the end of the civil war in 2002, Sierra Leone was hit by an Ebola virus outbreak from 2014 to 2016, which was followed by a devastating mudslide that killed over 1,000 people in 2017. Located in West Africa, the country has a population of 7,092,113 with 59% of the population living in rural areas.

Even though the government of Sierra Leone is making great efforts to promote economic development and improved provision of services, such as health, education and agriculture, Sierra Leone continues to face several development challenges. The country is faced with poor agricultural productivity and livelihoods, weak health system leading to high morbidity and mortality rates, poor access to quality education contributing to increased poverty, unemployment and no resilience to stresses and shocks from natural disasters particularly in urban areas.

Since 2018, the Free Quality School Education Program (FQSEP) is the government’s flagship program to provide a solid base to enhance human capital development and facilitate the transformation of the economy. CRS is playing a leading role in supporting the Government of Sierra Leone development agenda.

CRS Sierra Leone Country Programming

Since 1963, CRS has been on the front lines in responding to emergencies and promoting health, education, agriculture and urban resilience in Sierra Leone. We are working in all regions of Sierra Leone to reach the poorest and most marginalized communities. Earlier in 2020, CRS was awarded a diplomatic status in Sierra Leone which provides significant benefits and comparative advantage for influence and advocacy.  


student in Sierra Leone

Students eat lunch at their primary school in Sumbaria community in Koinadugu District, Sierra Leone. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

For over a decade, CRS has implemented the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition “All Pikin For Learn” Project, which seeks to increase the literacy of school-age boys and girls, and improve health and dietary practices in Koinadugu and Falaba Districts. Now in its fourth phase, this project provides direct support to the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) action plan, putting a premium on the provision of universal primary education and improved standards for quality education. The project also promotes the government’s Girls Education Strategy, through which girls are empowered through learning. This has led to an almost equal ratio of boys to girls attending schools in the targeted districts (52% male and 48% female). The fourth phase began in 2018 and will conclude in 2021. CRS currently feeds 69,000 students a day through its intervention. CRS is working with MBSSE to ensure that at the end of this phase, the project will be managed independently by the government of Sierra Leone, and that school feeding will continue sustainably.


students in Sierra Leone

CRS partners with the Sinkunia primary school in the north of Sierra Leone to provide school lunches as part of the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. Photo by Eric Clayton/CRS

Our main health project is the Global Fund Malaria PR grant under which CRS focuses on leading the implementation of a series of behavior change activities related to malaria treatment and prevention; these include the training community members and multimedia campaigns throughout the entire country. The project currently reaches 29,440 persons directly, and these participants then reach over 2 million people in their communities across Sierra Leone. As a primary recipient of the malaria grant, CRS is a leader in health and behavior change efforts in Sierra Leone.

In response to the coronavirus disease outbreak, CRS, with funding from the European Union, is working with Freetown City Council to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone. This project aims to inform Freetown residents about COVID-19 updates, and change behaviors to adopt best practices with special focus on 350,000 residents of informal settlements.

We are also implementing a hygiene and economic support project for communities affected by COVID-19 in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, CRS is providing handwashing stations and hygiene promotion campaigns focusing on COVID-19 preventative behaviors to over 90,000 people with focus on public sites like markets, schools and health facilities.  We are also providing 1,500 vulnerable households in Sierra Leone with cash assistance covering two months of household’s minimum expenditure basket (MEB), expenditure gap with cash transfers accompanied by household-level hygiene promotion. 


Due to urbanization and climate change, Freetown is host to a very dense population and an extreme rainy season. Currently, the services available do not meet the needs of the residents in terms of clean water access and solid waste collection. These issues are protracted by the annual floods affecting thousands of residents in extreme hazard-prone areas. CRS is working with the Freetown City Council, Caritas and other partners to improve urban resilience. Our urban resilience programs focus on solid waste management, nature-based reforestation, and repair of communities’ water points and integrated water management from catchment areas to water point access.

In addition to these proactive resilience efforts, CRS also works with our local Caritas partners and the local government to respond to emergencies in Freetown.



The Water Fund creates and enhances financial and governance mechanisms to protect and restore the National Park. It unites public, private, and civil society stakeholders around a common goal, and contributes to water security through nature-based solutions and sustainable watershed management.

The vision for the Western Area Peninsula Water Fund is a restored WAPNP that provides biodiversity and clean water benefits to the Greater Freetown Area. The Water Fund’s mission is to restore the watersheds within the WAPNP so that they can supply the quantity and quality of water needed for all users in the Greater Freetown Area while improving the livelihoods of the people in the watershed, conserving the area’s rich biodiversity, and building resilience to acute shocks — in the context of a changing climate.




People Served: 3,727,339

Population: 7,092,113

Size: 75,955 sq. mi.; slightly smaller than South Dakota


CRS' History in Sierra Leone

Catholic Relief Services started work in Sierra Leone in 1963. During the 1970s and 1980s, CRS focused efforts on supporting education projects and health centers for mothers and children. Between 1991 and 2002, civil war killed more than 20,000 people and displaced and destroyed the livelihoods of millions more. In response to the war, CRS Sierra Leone, like most international agencies operating in the country, shifted strategy from development aid to emergency relief. By 1995, CRS was supporting displaced populations throughout the country with food, medicine, clothing, shelter and household items. 

After the war ended in 2002, the focus of government and nongovernmental agencies turned to safeguarding peace and transitioning to development. In March 2004, CRS and other international agencies launched a three-year development program. Staff members worked side-by-side with communities devastated by war to execute plans designed to restore livelihoods and improve the food security and health status of rural households. 

The programs implemented by Catholic Relief Services and our partners in Sierra Leone are helping to rebuild the country from the inside out. In a country as fragile as Sierra Leone, peacebuilding is crucial. Integrating peacebuilding in our projects is a major focus for CRS.

In spite of the natural resources in Sierra Leone, more than 60% of the population in the country lives below the national poverty line. About 62% of the population lives in rural areas and depends on agriculture for food and income. Nearly 75% of the total land area is arable. However, the majority of the rural poor are smallholders with land holding averaging from 0.5-2.0 hectares. Size of land, farm inputs and technical know-how are some of the primary limitations for smallholder farmers and that's why CRS is working with farmers to broaden their farming knowledge and business management skills.  

As infrastructure was rebuilt after the war, community health programs ensured the well-being of the people of Sierra Leone. CRS has invested in nutrition and health education for students. 

While Sierra Leone's medical facilities are improving, the situation is still dire. For many Sierra Leoneans, health services are too expensive, forcing families to turn to traditional medicine and poorly trained health workers. CRS helps poor and vulnerable people access health care services, and encourages them to take greater responsibility for these services. In one CRS health program, the staff organizes immunizations for children under 5 years old and counsels mothers about feeding and caring for newborns. 

CRS also is heavily involved in raising awareness about malaria and Ebola prevention in Sierra Leone. Malaria is the number one cause of child mortality in Sierra Leone. This preventable and treatable disease causes nearly 40% of the deaths of children under 5. The national strategy seeks to provide access to malaria control for all, including increasing the percentage of cases treated promptly and effectively from 50 to 80% and ensuring that at least 80% of the population has access to, and knowledge to use, at least one preventative method.