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Poverty in Sierra Leone

Even in sub-Sahara Africa, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest and least developed countries.

Maria (woman in blue skirt) has a heavily swollen neck. Her family being poor, it cannot afford the medical treatment she needs.

Among sub-Saharan countries, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest of the least developed ones. According to the Human Development Index of 2016 Sierra Leone ranks 180 out of 188 countries. Human development is measured as the sum of education, healthcare and income levels. More than one Sierra Leonean out of two lives in extreme poverty and approximately 70 per cent of the youth lacks permanent employment. The majority of Sierra Leoneans live in rural areas where they engage in subsistence agriculture for their survival. Even with hard physical work they barely grow enough to satisfy their own consumption. Commercial agriculture is relatively rare meaning that most farmers find themselves incapable of producing a surplus to sell on the markets.

For Sierra Leoneans, the lack of income means not being able to pay for the school fees of one’s children. Without savings to buy food with, farmers are even vulnerable to hunger in case their own harvest turns out bad. It also means not being able to pay for medical treatment so that even simple complications like pneumonia or diarrhoea can be lethal.

Poverty from a Global Perspective

While poverty rates dramatically dropped overall, sub-Saharan Africa has barely seen any improvement in living standards.
Total Number of Poor People According to World Regions
Source: World Poverty Absolute Number by Region (World Bank)

From a global perspective, during the last 20 to 30 years the total number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped considerably. While in the 90’s more than 1.800.000.000 (= 1.8 billion) people lived in poverty, this number has decreased by more than a billion and is presently down to roughly 800.000 million people. This is good news to whoever wishes for a more equitable and fairer world. Yet, certain parts of the world have been largely excluded from this progress. While almost the entire progress in the improvement of living standards is attributable to South and East Asia (the biggest part of it is due to the breath-taking rise of China) poverty rates have barely dropped in sub-Sahara Africa. Nowadays, the majority of the poor live there, most of them are located in rural areas.

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