We need help: Sierra Leone faces challenges amid Russia-Ukraine crisis – News
Russia’s operation in Ukraine drove up oil prices around the world
Iyesatu Turay, who lives in a sprawling slum of corrugated iron shacks in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, says she doesn’t have enough food to feed her family.
Life is a struggle for many in the Kroo Bay slum, where pigs mingle with stray dogs in the debris-strewn alleyways of the slum, which straddles an open sewer.
But the war in distant Ukraine has made life even more difficult. Fuel prices, as well as the prices of staples such as cooking oil and rice, have recently risen sharply in the West African country.
“We need help,” said Turay, a 28-year-old mother of three, who explained that the price hikes are hitting alongside regular power cuts and uneven water supplies.
“We barely survive on one meal every night,” she told AFP. “No food, water and light.”
Diamond-rich Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Warnings that the economic fallout from the crisis in Ukraine could affect the poorest countries have already become a reality in this country of 7.5 million people, where around 43% of the population lives on less than 1.90 dollar a day, according to the World Bank.
Russia, a major energy producer, is under severe Western sanctions. Its operation on Ukraine in February sent oil prices up around the world, with consumer inflation also rising rapidly.
Musa Sesay, a grocer in Freetown, told AFP that all his suppliers had raised their prices.
“We are not responsible for the price increase, it is a global problem,” he said.
A 50-kilogram bag of rice that recently cost the equivalent of around 27 euros ($29) now costs 32 euros ($35), an increase of around 20%.
Fuel prices have also jumped. At the end of March, the Petroleum Regulatory Agency (PRA) of Sierra Leone increased the price caps for petrol and diesel by 34% and 40% respectively compared to January.
The PRA cited supply problems linked to the deteriorating “geopolitical situation in Europe” as the reason for the decision.
The Sierra Leone government says it has stepped in to cushion the blow to motorists – the increase in prices at the pump is less than the increase in fuel import costs.
Yet commercial drivers went on strike in Freetown after the price hike and blocked several roads in the city. Police had to fire tear gas to clear the streets of protesters.
Four years into President Julius Maada Bio’s first term, it is unclear whether the 57-year-old will be able to deliver on his campaign promise to fight poverty and hunger.
“We have nothing to do with the war in Ukraine, but our people are suffering here,” the president said during a live broadcast with business representatives this month, pledging to make decisions to help “ordinary people”.
The latest crisis has come as Sierra Leone is already struggling to regulate its electricity supply, provide clean water to many underserved citizens and control inflation.
In 2020, the government signed a five-year agreement with Karpowership, a Turkish operator of floating power plants, to supply electricity to the country.
Yet power outages are still commonplace. A senior official from Sierra Leone’s energy ministry, who requested anonymity, said maintenance work, payment issues and infrastructure damage caused by ‘criminals’ were all affecting supply .
In an April 5 statement, Sierra Leone’s central bank also said inflation was 17.6 percent in February.
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On Thursday, the United Nations World Food Program warned in a statement that West Africa was already facing an “unprecedented food and nutrition crisis”, with more people now at risk due to high prices linked to the war in Ukraine.
Ibrahim Sesay, a teacher in Freetown, told AFP: “We are poor, hungry.
“Wages are not enough to pay for food, clothes and household bills,” he added.