08 May 2023

Stocktaking of Security Sector Roles in Climate and Environmental Security: Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is facing a range of climate and environmental risks that directly affect human security. Human activities, including environmental crime, are further undermining protective ecosystem services and destroying carbon sinks, contributing to the cycle of degradation and accelerating the effects of climate change.

From rising sea levels and changing rainfall patterns, which cause both water scarcity and seasonal flooding, to widespread pollution and the destruction of natural resources such as coastal ecosystems and tropical rainforests, the combined effects of climate change and human pressures on the environment are threatening to undo the economic development and peacebuilding gains achieved since the end of the civil war.

While many of these risks require a response that extends well beyond the security sector, security institutions have an important and perhaps underappreciated role to play in this context. It is worth noting that government responses to these risks (or lack thereof) as well as failures to address corrupt practices that directly exacerbate an already critical context clearly affect the population’s perceptions of the state. However, there are multiple, affordable opportunities for security institutions to play a role in addressing human security needs and in doing so to make a contribution to social cohesion.

As climate change increases the risk of flooding, mudslides and other disasters, the role of the Sierra Leonean security forces in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and in supporting efforts of the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) will be increasingly important and offers a valuable opportunity for institutions to work closely with communities and local government to better analyse and mitigate the risk of both sudden and slow-onset disasters. Likewise, the environmental crime police, in conjunction with specialised agencies operating under the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MoE)1 , including the forest guards, has the potential to play a stronger role in preventing and prosecuting cases of environmental crimes and other forms of harm to the environment. There are important links between these two functions. Illegal logging and land-grabbing, leading to deforestation, significantly increase the risk of mudslides. Unregulated waste disposal and sand and mineral mining not only affect soil and water resources, but also have serious public health consequences and ultimately increase flood risks. This directly affects the health and resilience of available resources for farming and fishing, on which Sierra Leone’s rapidly growing population relies.

Overall, this stocktaking study has found significant potential for prevention and stabilisation programming to improve service delivery of security institutions with regard to mitigating the impact of climate and environmental risks on communities and the environment, as well as strengthening social cohesion and contributing to sustainable peace. While international partners in their prevention and stabilisation programming tend not to fully maximise potential in this area, findings place security sector roles in climate and environmental security at the heart of the triple nexus of humanitarian needs, development and security. Moreover, working at this nexus is relevant in the context of the sustaining peace and prevention agenda, commitments to mainstream DRR, as agreed under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Agreement’s Global Goal on Adaptation.

In addition to the more practical recommendations for international partners and the Government of Sierra Leone that are included in the report, several of the conclusions have broader relevance for security sector governance and reform (SSG/R), prevention and stabilisation programming across a range of regional, environmental and security contexts, and will be further explored in the other countries in the stocktaking study.


  • Sierra Leone is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. It faces a range of multidimensional risks at the intersection of environmental and human security, and across both the Prepare and Protect dimensions of this study. These risks interact in a way that continues to increase the vulnerability of Sierra Leoneans to the human security consequences of the changing climate.
  • Environmental harm, such as pollution, illegal logging and mining, and violations of existing legislation are sometimes inextricably linked with community livelihoods. Even if law enforcement in this area is strengthened, harm to the environment is unlikely to cease without a focus on creating alternative, clean options for income generation. However, strengthening law enforcement is also crucial because of the strong links between harm to the environment and organised criminal activities, including transboundary activities.
  • A variety of civilian and security sector agencies are involved in DRR and combating environmental crime, with mandates that are not always entirely clear or distinct. Moreover, when it comes to issuing environmental licences and permits (for mining, logging, construction, etc), it is not always clear which agency’s licensing takes precedence over the other. In a context of many needs and limited resources, both gaps and overlapping mandates open pathways for corruption and undermine the ability of state institutions to deliver the security services that communities need most under the prepare and protect dimensions of this study..

This report has originally been published by DCAF, and can be found here

Authored by Viola Csordas, Anne Bennett, and Frederik Wallin. 

Photo credit: Flickr/IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.