Sierra Leone

SIERRA LEONE IS on the West African coast, covering 27,699 sq. mi. (71,740 sq. km.), which is equivalent to an area the size of South Carolina. Sierra Leone has a population of 6,017,643 people (est. in July 2005), with nearly one million people living in the capital, Freetown. Sierra Leone was the lowest ranking, among 177 countries surveyed, in the United Nations Human Development Indicators (2006), in part because of an 11-year civil war (1991-2002) that resulted in 50,000 deaths and the displacement of 2 million people. The civil war also accelerated the depletion of natural resources including diamonds, tropical timber, and wild game. Sierra Leone has a per capita gross domestic product of $600 (2004 est.), with 68 percent of the population living in poverty, most of whom are subsistence farmers. Products of economic significance to the country include cocoa, coffee, rice, palm oil, and fish. Alluvial diamond mining is the major source of hard currency earnings, whereas other extracted minerals include titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, and chromite. The geography is characterized by coastal mangrove swamps and wooded uplands inland, and the climate is tropical. Four environmental issues facing the country are overharvesting of tropical timber, clearing of forests for cattle grazing, deforestation and related soil erosion, and overfishing.

The contributions that Sierra Leone makes to human-induced climate change are minimal compared with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Per capita CO2 emissions in 1998 were only 100 metric tons, compared with an average of 800 tons for the subcontinent and a global average of 4,100 metric tons. The burning of liquid fuels (petroleum products) represented 90 percent of the country's CO2 emissions. Other non-CO2 air pollution in Sierra Leone is low compared with the rest of the continent and the world. Nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions (in 1995) were 64,000 and 1,380,000 metric tons, respectively, making up just 0.007 and 0.008 percent of the totals for sub-Saharan Africa.

Climate change could have significant consequences on the people and the environment in Sierra Leone. With 248.5 mi. (400 km.) of coastline, significant areas, including the capital, could become more prone to flooding. A rising sea level would also destroy the extensive network of mangrove forests that covers much of the coastline. Climatic change leading to a shortened rainy season, especially inland, could facilitate the conversion of tropical forests to grazing land for livestock. With these land-use changes could come new diseases, as well as the elimination of others. For example, Lassa fever, which is endemic to the rainforest along the eastern border, could disappear with changes in climate and landscapes. However, the intensification of rainfall could accelerate soil erosion and instigate flash flooding (which is already a problem in Freetown), threatening people and their livelihoods.

SEE ALSO: Carbon Dioxide; Climate Change, Effects; Floods; Global Warming.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook (Central Intelligence Agency, 2006); Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report: Sierra Leone (The Economist, 2006); John F. McCoy, Geo-Data: The World Geographical Encyclopedia (Thomson-Gale, 2003); United Nations Human Development Indicators (United Nations, 2006); World Resources Institute, Earthtrends, http://

Michael Joseph Simsik U.S. Peace Corps

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