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. Following this technical report, UNEP worked with UNDP and FAO to provide capacity-building and technical support within the framework of the UN Joint Vision for Sierra Leone. The initiative, called “Programme 21: Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding,” is an integrated response by the UN to the government’s own “Agenda for Change.”
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”.
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: Improved natural resource management capacity of the Government of Sierra Leone, improved land and water resource management in Sierra Leone, improved planning to respond to climate change.