6,092,000 (2013); 39 per cent of people live in urban areas; growth 1.8 per cent p.a. 1990–2013; birth rate 37 per 1,000 people (46 in 1970); life expectancy 46 years (36 in 1970 and 40 in 1990); population figures are unreliable because during the civil war in the mid-1990s up to 50 per cent of the population had to leave their homes – there was mass migration to towns and to neighbouring countries.
The vast majority of the people are of Bantu origin: Temne (35 per cent in the 2008 census) and Limba (eight per cent) people mostly in the Northern province; Mende people (31 per cent) live in the Southern province and Eastern province. Additionally, there are nine other Bantu ethnic groups, including Kono (five per cent), Mandingo (two per cent) and Loko (two per cent). Krios (two per cent) are descendants of formerly enslaved 19th-century immigrants who live mostly in and around Freetown. The small Lebanese community, mostly of traders, decreased during the 1990s.
English is the official language. Krio (an English-based Creole) is spoken in and around Freetown. Other major languages are Temne, Mende and Limba.
Muslims 60 per cent, Christians ten per cent, with most of the remaining population holding traditional beliefs, which often coexist with other religions.
Public spending on health was two per cent of GDP in 2012. Climatic conditions are conducive to the spread of tropical diseases (notably malaria and guinea worm), and civil war made the country vulnerable to cholera. There was a high incidence of maiming during the civil war. Some 60 per cent of the population uses an improved drinking water source and 13 per cent have access to adequate sanitation facilities (2013). Infant mortality was 107 per 1,000 live births in 2013 (220 in 1960). In 2013, 1.6 per cent of people aged 15–49 were HIV positive.
The Ebola outbreak of 2014–15 has claimed nearly 4,000 lives in Sierra Leone so far, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The international response was headed by the United Nations and the WHO, with many charities and national governments pledging funding and medical personnel to help combat the crisis.
Public spending on education was three per cent of GDP in 2012. There are six years of compulsory education starting at the age of six. Primary school comprises six years and secondary six, with two cycles each of three years. The school year starts in September.
The principal tertiary institutions are Fourah Bay College in Freetown and Njala University, with campuses in Bo and Njala. These universities, together with Milton Margai College of Education and Technology (Freetown), Eastern Polytechnic (main campus in Kenema) and other independent tertiary institutions, are all affiliated to the University of Sierra Leone. The country also has a number of teacher-training and technical/vocational institutions providing certificate and diploma courses. Literacy among people aged 15–24 is 59 per cent (2010).
There are many newspapers including Awoko, Concord Times and Standard Times.
Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation provides public radio and TV services. There are many private radio stations and ABC TV is a private TV channel.
Country code 232; internet domain ‘.sl’. The number of mobile phone subscribers is growing rapidly, though mobile phone coverage is limited. The public telephone system does not extend beyond Western Area. Post offices are found in the main towns.
For every 1,000 people there are three landlines, 441 mobile phone subscriptions and 17 internet users (2013).
New Year’s Day, Independence Day (27 April), Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Religious and other festivals whose dates vary from year to year include Mouloud (Prophet’s Birthday), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).