ABU DHABI // Sierra Leone is to benefit from a series of investments by UAE-based foundations following the recent visit of Sia Koroma, the first lady of the formerly war-torn country. The Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation has agreed to fund the digging of approximately 120 water wells in communities across the West African country, where people face a continuing fight for survival six years after the decade-long civil war ended.
Extreme poverty, high unemployment, rising food prices and desperately high infant and maternal death rates have left the country languishing at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index - 177th out of 177 countries listed. With the war over and emergencies elsewhere in the world demanding increasing shares of limited international aid, organisations have slowly withdrawn funding from Sierra Leone.
The digging of the wells, which is being co-ordinated by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), will give 48,000 people access to clean, drinkable water for the next 15 to 20 years - an invaluable contribution to stopping the spread of preventable water-borne diseases. It is believed to be the first time UNDP resources have been mobilised in Sierra Leone by the UAE. The decision followed a foundation workshop, held in May, that brought together members of both organisations, delegates from each UNDP country office and Suzanne Kim Siu from UNDP's headquarters in New York.
The news of the funding, combined with the recent announcement by the Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development that it would establish a bank for the poor in the West African region and build its headquarters in Sierra Leone, has been welcomed by the First Lady's office in Freetown, the nation's capital. Titus Boye-Thompson, head of operations at Mrs Koroma's office, said this was "an extremely good result for the country".
Speaking last month during her first visit to the UAE, Mrs Koroma, wife of the president Ernest Bai Koroma and known as the "mother of the nation", spelt out her commitment to ending the poverty that killed thousands of her people every year. She said she hoped the visit would lead to investment from the UAE. "Sierra Leone needs genuine investors, we also need training," she said. "I have seen the UAE now and I want to know how you did it. I want to know your story and need your knowledge."
Her country had, she said, "been through a lot of catastrophe and suffered but Sierra Leone is very rich in natural resources. "We have long, beautiful, unspoilt gold beaches so I intend to attract tourists. We have a large mineral resource, particularly gold and diamonds." She added: "My hopes for the future of Sierra Leone are of lasting peace, for it to continue, and for the needed development work to improve Sierra Leone.
"I also hope for my children, the children of the nation, to have a better survival rate, better health care and education, water and sanitation. I want for them a free and better quality of life." @Email:email@example.com