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Country Reports

Sierra Leone Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Individuals should be aware of a number of risks when traveling to the small West African nation of Sierra Leone (population 6.7 million).

AREAS TO AVOID

Some Western governments advise against nonessential travel to border areas, particularly in the east along the Liberian border.

TERRORISM

The threat of terrorism remains low. However, due to attacks in various West African countries (e.g., Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso), travelers should be cautious, especially in locations popular with tourists such as hotels, restaurants, cafes, and beach resorts.

SECURITY

The eastern part of Sierra Leone can be dangerous due to the continued presence of Liberian militias, remnants of the Liberian civil war (1989-2003). Sporadic fighting in this area has been reported since the end of the conflict that affected both countries.

Moreover, organized crime has developed in West Africa as a whole, with an intensification of trafficking of arms, drugs, and persons. According to the United Nations, Sierra Leone is located in the regional transit axis for drugs going from South America to Europe. Countries in the region, including Sierra Leone, have engaged in a program to fight drug trafficking and organized crime. The adopted operational plan provides for the establishment of joint border patrols, information sharing and joint training. Border patrols should also decrease the risk of armed incursions and cross-border violence.

SOCIOPOLITICAL RISK

Sierra Leone continues to carry out post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding efforts. Three democratic elections have been held since the end of civil war in 2002, with the most recent occurring in 2012.

However, the country remains fragile as relations between civil society and the government have worsened in recent years. The people of Sierra Leone continue to suffer from government corruption, insufficient public services, and high unemployment rates - especially among young people (43 percent of the population is under 14 and 65 percent of working-aged youths are unemployed).

Because of the particularly high unemployment rate and extreme poverty (52.9 percent of the population lives below the poverty line), intense protests can occur.

Approaching the end of his second term, President Koroma has faced strong public criticism amid rumors that he may seek a third term in office, despite the fact that the constitution allows for two five-year terms. Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled to take place on March 7, 2018. The official campaign period launched on February 4. Political rallies should be avoided.

As a precaution, travelers should monitor the political situation and avoid any political demonstrations or gatherings.

SOCIOECONOMIC RISK/ HUMANITARIAN SITUATION

Since the end of civil war, Sierra Leone has experienced periods of rapid economic growth, based largely on mineral exports. However, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with the most recent estimates indicating that more than half of the population sits below the poverty line.

In recent years, the economy has endured major shocks due to the Ebola epidemic from 2014 to 2016, which resulted in some 4000 deaths, and the collapse of iron ore prices during the same period. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth soared to 20.7 percent in 2013 before plummeting to an estimated 21.50 percent decrease in 2015. Despite this devastating economic contraction, Sierra Leone is expected to produce moderate growth - between 5 and 6 percent annually - in the coming two years as new investments and a resurgent tourism industry buoy the nation's economy.

CRIME

Although Freetown is one of the safest capitals in West Africa, travelers should remain vigilant as crime rates have increased in recent years, particularly in the areas of Congo Cross, Wilkinson Road, Lumley Beach, and Aberdeen. Common criminal activities range from petty crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatching, etc.) to armed violence (robberies, carjackings, etc.), particularly targeting business travelers or expatriates due to their perceived wealth. Theft in hotel rooms is also common.  It is also recommended to avoid walking, especially at night, in neighborhoods northeast of Freetown, in the harbor area, and anywhere outside the capital. Crime tends to increase during the Christmas period due to the influx of visitors.

There is also an increasing presence of gangs in the capital, which should be taken into account.

It is recommended to keep a low profile at all times, avoid carrying valuables, and avoid traveling at night in the city, especially on the beaches. If confronted, comply with demands and do not offer resistance as assailants may be armed. On the road, it is advised to drive with doors locked and windows rolled up.

HEALTH

Prior to departure, travelers should purchase a health insurance plan covering overseas care and medical repatriation, the latter being highly recommended in case of a significant or urgent health issue.

Travelers entering Sierra Leone are required to present a certificate of immunization against yellow fever. Lassa fever is endemic to the country, with a higher risk of contraction between February and April. There is currently no vaccine for Lassa fever. Malaria is endemic to Sierra Leone and presents a high risk to travelers throughout the country. To minimize the risk of contracting malaria or other mosquito-borne diseases, use insect repellent, wear covering clothing, and sleep under mosquito netting or in an air-conditioned room. If you develop a high fever during or after travel in Sierra Leone, seek immediate medical attention.

Tap water is not drinkable. Diarrheal diseases are common in the country. It is recommended to only drink filtered bottled water, to make sure food is properly cooked, and to wash hands several times a day.

To avoid the risk of parasitic infection, it is advised to avoid bathing or washing clothes in stagnant water. It is not advised to walk barefoot.

Moreover, travelers should take necessary precautions against HIV/AIDS, which is highly prevalent throughout the country.

Vaccination against measles is also recommended as numerous cases of the disease have been reported in the country. In June 2016, a measles outbreak resulted in 4800 cases and 20 deaths. This disease primarily affects children and remains one of the leading causes of child mortality in the world today.

Sierra Leone's Ebola outbreak was the largest recorded since the identification of the disease in 1976. Between March 2014 and February 2016, 14,122 cases were registered in Sierra Leone, leading to 3955 deaths. On March 17, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the end of the epidemic. The disease is transmitted via direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids of infected people or animals. The disease is highly contagious, particularly during the hemorrhagic phase. Ebola is characterized by the sudden onset of high fever, weakness, joint and muscle pain, and headache. These symptoms are followed by nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, rash, kidney and liver failure, and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding. To avoid contracting this disease, it is recommended to avoid consuming bush meat and to only handle animals when wearing gloves and the appropriate protective wear. Animal products (meat and blood) should be thoroughly cooked before consumption. One should also avoid contact with infected individuals and objects with which they may have come into contact, and should pay close attention to one's own hygienic practices (e.g., frequent washing of hands and surrounding surfaces).

Finally, public health infrastructure is inadequate; in case of an emergency, it is advised to use private health facilities while considering repatriation as soon as possible. 

NATURAL RISKS

Freetown is regularly affected by heavy rains between March and July. The lack of adequate infrastructure hampers proper drainage. Consequently, the low areas of the city and the main roads are often flooded and impassable. Structures built on the hills of the city are also affected. Mudslides and collapsing buildings are common during this period. It is recommended to become familiar with the areas at risk and to ride with a sports utility vehicle (4x4).

TRANSPORTATION

Several international companies offer flights to and from Europe and other African capitals. There are no domestic flights.

From Freetown-Lungi International Airport (FNA) access to the capital is difficult. By car, the trip can take between four and five hours. A ferry connects the airport to the capital but it is often overloaded and the wait time can be very long. Water taxis and private speedboat charters provide the fastest option, but passengers may get wet during the 20-30 minute ride, particularly during inclement weather. Western governments formally advise against all travel by canoe.

Except for main highways, roads outside of Freetown are rarely paved and typically in poor condition, more so during the rainy season. Driving outside the capital should only be done in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Dangerous driving conditions created by poorly maintained roads are exacerbated by locals' aggressive driving habits, overloaded vehicles, and poor vehicle maintenance. Moreover, all night travel should be avoided due to the lack of public lighting and traffic signals. Travelers should be aware that traffic accidents may draw large crowds that occasionally become aggressive or violent. In the case of such an incident, travelers should remain inside their vehicle and drive immediately to the nearest police station.

In Freetown and in the rest of the country, due to the risk of theft in traffic, it is recommended to ensure that all vehicle doors are locked and windows are rolled up.

Official police checkpoints at which drivers are required to stop are common throughout the country. Carry adequate identification at all times. Children also often set up illegal roadblocks in the middle of the road to ask for money. This is more common during the weekend on the roads leading to beach resorts. If you indicate that you do not wish to stop, you will be free to pass.

LEGAL

The majority of the population practices Islam. Travelers should respect local traditions and customs, especially those linked to Islam.

Homosexuality is illegal in Sierra Leone.

Diamonds cannot be taken out of the country without an export license issued by the Department of Mineral Resources.

Climate

Sierra Leone's climate is generally tropical and humid but there are significant differences between the climate along the coast and the climate in mountainous regions. Temperatures are high throughout the year, as are humidity levels. The rainy season begins in April-May with violent thunderstorms and strong winds, and ends in November. Rainfall is heaviest in the summer (July to September), particularly in the south. Inland regions receive less rain than coastal regions, which often experience floods. Freetown, the capital, is situated at a high elevation and is spared from floods. During the dry season (December to March) days are hot and sunny. Ocean winds often lower coastal temperatures and the Harmattan, a hot and dry trade wind from the Sahara, lowers humidity levels in the interior of the country when it passes through.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +232 Police: 999

Electricity

Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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