* Sierra Leone's mineral resources largely untapped
* Boom in iron ore mining has driven GDP growth
* Mining wealth yet to trickle down to country's poor
By Umaru Fofana
FREETOWN, April 3 The rapid expansion of Sierra
Leone's nascent iron ore mining industry fuelled economic growth
of 20 percent last year, according to IMF data, but prices also
surged in the impoverished West African nation.
Interest in its largely untapped mineral resources has
sparked a flood of investment in Sierra Leone a decade after the
end of a devastating 1991-2002 civil war. Its economic growth
rate is ranked among the highest in the world.
British miners African Minerals, which operates the
Tonkolili project, and London Mining, owner of the
Marampa mine, both began shipping iron ore in 2011.
"Economic activity continues to expand robustly, mainly on
account of a sharp increase in mining activity," Malangu
Kabedi-Mbuyi, who headed a recent International Monetary Fund
mission to the country, said in a statement.
Sierra Leone remains one of the world's poorest and least
developed countries, and there is widespread frustration that
despite the mining boom, more than half of the population of 6
million lives on less than $1.25 per day.
Economic growth excluding iron ore mining activity was 5.5
percent last year, while inflation eased from 12.5 percent in
2012 to 8.5 percent at the end of 2013, the statement said.
Gross international reserves reached 3-1/2 months of import
cover, supported by increased export receipts from iron ore,
while the fiscal deficit narrowed to 1.9 percent of non-iron ore
GDP, from 5.6 percent in 2012.
The dominance of its mining sector has also raised concerns
that natural resource exploitation will stifle other exports and
fail to encourage broad-based economic development.
"We are aware of it and the government is also aware of it,"
Francis Kumah, the IMF's resident representative in Sierra
Leone, told Reuters on Thursday, adding that the country needed
more policies to diversify its economy.
"There is the awareness to do so now and that is a good
thing," he said, citing efforts by the agriculture and marine
ministries to expand the revenue base.
(Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by