Many people struggle in the Kroo Bay slum, where pigs mingle with stray dogs in the shantytown’s debris-strewn alleys that straddle an open sewer.
However, 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 price increases are occurring alongside frequent power outages and a patchy water supply.
“We’re barely surviving on a single late-night meal,” she told reporters. “There is no food, water, or light.”
Diamond-rich Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries, still recovering from a brutal civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and a West African Ebola epidemic that lasted from 2014 to 2016.
Warnings that the economic fallout from Ukraine’s war would hit poorer countries have already become a reality in the 7.5 million-person country, where 43 percent of the population lives on less than $1.90 per day, according to the World Bank.
Russia, a major producer of energy, is subject to harsh Western sanctions. Its February invasion of Ukraine sent oil prices soaring around the world, and consumer inflation is also rapidly rising.
A 50-kilogram bag of rice, which previously cost around 27 euros ($29), now costs 32 euros ($35), a 20 percent increase.
Sierra Leone’s Petroleum Regulatory Agency (PRA) raised the ceiling prices for petrol and diesel by 34% and 40%, respectively, in late March, compared to January.
The PRA cited supply concerns related to Europe’s deteriorating “geopolitical situation” as the reason for the move.
Sierra Leone’s government claims it intervened to soften the blow to motorists, as increased pump prices are less than the cost of importing fuel.
Despite this, commercial drivers in Freetown went on strike following the price increase, blocking several city roads. To clear the streets of protesters, police had to use tear gas.
The government signed a five-year agreement to supply electricity to the country with Karpowership, a Turkish operator of floating power plants, in 2020.
Nonetheless, power outages are still common. According to a senior official at Sierra Leone’s energy ministry who requested anonymity, maintenance work, payment issues, and infrastructure damage caused by “criminals” are all interfering with supplies.
The United Nations World Food Programme warned in a statement on Thursday that West Africa was already facing an “unprecedented food and nutrition crisis,” with more people at risk as a result of the high prices associated with the Ukraine war.