Costello to assess Irish aid projects on Africa visit


MINISTER FOR Trade and Development Joe Costello arrived in Sierra Leone last night at the start of a week-long visit aimed at assessing the impact of Ireland’s aid programme in two of the world’s poorest countries.

Mr Costello is to visit schools, health clinics and agriculture business centres supported by Ireland and targeted at the poorest communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

He will also visit a United Nations emergency humanitarian depot in Ghana where Irish Aid maintains stocks of emergency humanitarian supplies for rapid delivery in times of crisis.

“Since the end of the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, both countries have been working to build state systems and create decent lives for their people,” Mr Costello said.

He added that while progress had been made in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, “significant economic and development challenges persist and both countries continue to be ranked amongst the poorest in the world”.

He said the Government had “targeted and effective programmes” in both countries which were addressing hunger, reducing maternal mortality and supporting former child soldiers to reintegrate into the community. He stressed the State’s commitment “to supporting the long-term reconstruction and development of both countries”.

In Sierra Leone, where Ireland focuses on addressing child and maternal under-nutrition and increasing agricultural productivity, the Minister will visit an agricultural business centre and meet smallholder farmers who have benefited from an Irish-supported programme to increase productivity.

He will also visit an Irish Aid- supported programme to tackle severe child malnutrition and a school-feeding programme that provides children with one meal a day to prevent malnutrition and increase school attendance.

“Our funding to a programme to treat life-threatening malnutrition amongst children under five has resulted in a 12-fold increase in the number of children being treated – from just under 3,000 children in 2007 to 35,000 today,” Mr Costello said.

“As a result, more than nine in 10 of these children are completely cured.

“This is critical in a country where the terrible toll of child mortality means one in five children dies before their fifth birthday.”

In Liberia, where a key focus of Ireland’s aid programme is to strengthen the country’s health system, Mr Costello will visit an urban health facility to see how Ireland’s support to the government has contributed to the re-establishment of basic health services for its highly vulnerable citizens.

Mr Costello will remain in Sierra Leone until next Tuesday. He will then travel to Ghana for two days before moving on to Liberia from Wednesday to Friday.

Ireland has had an active engagement in Sierra Leone and Liberia since 2005, having established development co-operation programmes in both countries in that year, with offices and staff in Freetown and Monrovia.

Sierra Leone is ranked at 180 of 187 countries on the 2011 human development index.

Average life expectancy at birth is 47 years and illiteracy is widespread, with 20 per cent of males and only 9 per cent of females having completed secondary education. Two-thirds of the total population live below the national poverty line.

Liberia is ranked at 182 out of 187 countries on the 2011 development index. Average life expectancy at birth is 57 years.

Under the Rapid Response Initiative, Irish Aid pre-positions essential humanitarian relief items in Accra, Ghana, which is within the network of UN humanitarian response depots.