The environmental causes and consequences of war have been prominent in Sierra Leone for the past 20 years. The inequitable division of natural resource wealth was one of the drivers of the civil war that ravaged the country from 1991 to 2002. Diamonds and other minerals were used to fund combatants, and also became the spoils of war. From youth estrangement to rural alienation, many of the conditions that facilitated the onset of the conflict continue today, aggravated by concerns over unfair distribution of benefits, opaque governance processes and inefficient and unsustainable practices.
These were the key messages of a UNEP report entitled Sierra Leone: Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding Assessment, which was launched in Freetown in June 2010.
Improving the management of Sierra Leone’s environment and natural resources is vital to the country’s development, especially given the close links between the country’s resources and its continued peace and stability, economic development, rural integration and governance capacity. In recognition of their critical value, the government of Sierra Leone has made better management of its environment and natural resources a key peace and development priority, most importantly in the government’s strategic plan, the “Agenda for Change”.
Significant care must be taken ahead of the 2012 presidential election to ensure that natural resources and the environment do not lead to renewed instability and conflict. It is vital for the government of Sierra Leone and the international community to take these risks seriously. But opportunities also exist: if managed effectively, natural resources and environment could make an important contribution to peacebuilding in Sierra Leone, laying the foundations for sustainable development and economic growth.
A COMMITMENT TO SIERRA LEONE
Based on the findings of the 2010 report, UNEP’s work in Sierra Leone is focused on supporting this ongoing process. Working with UNDP and FAO, UNEP has developed a programme of capacity-building assistance and technical support. This initiative, called “Programme 21: Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding,” is a part of the UN’s Joint Vision, which is an integrated response by the UN to the government’s own “Agenda for Change.”
Programme 21’s overall goal is to improve natural resource management capacity and environmental governance to support rural livelihoods, peace consolidation and overall sustainable development of Sierra Leone. It comprises three themes:
Theme 1: Improved natural resource management capacity of the Government of Sierra Leone
Theme 2: Improved land and water resource management in Sierra Leone
Theme 3: Improved planning in place to respond to climate change
UNEP is also working to eliminate the use of ozone-depleting substances such as halon and methyl bromide in Sierra Leone. For more information on UNEP’s work in this area, please click here.
For further information on UNEP's work in Sierra Leone please contact Oli Brown, Programme Coordinator on: Oli.Brown@unep.org