The Liberian Environment is in Great Danger
A 911 (Emergency Response Call)

By Morris Koffa

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 12, 2004

Morris Koffa
Environmental freedom and political liberty are intrinsically linked and holistically in separable. It is the responsibility of governments to simultaneously ensure equal engagement in the fulfillment of these iconoclastic and nationalistic goals. Neglecting one over the other can become dangerously problematic.

Since Liberia gained her national sovereignty in 1847, the issue of environmental soundness has never been a major factor in the political, economic and social decisions-making process of our nation. Every conceivable environmental laws or ordinances have been ignored without exception in the governance and development of Liberia. Foreign and local companies did business at will without Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or Environmental Risk Analysis (ERA) to forecast the potential impact or risks to the health and safety of the Liberian people, as well as the conservation of our natural resources so as to provide necessary mitigation in protecting human health and preserving as well as sustaining a future for generation to come. Sadly so, the activities of some companies, like Firestone, LAMCO and Bong Mining, just to name a few, left the nation with vivid memory of environmental scorn and degradation that will hunt generation of Liberians.

By all calculations, 14 years civil wars exacerbated the ecological imbalance caused by the unchecked business activities of foreign companies, and benign neglect of regulatory compliance by the Liberian Government. The latter part of the 14 years witnessed the mindless environmental pillage and wanton destruction of our natural resources. For example the nation’s virgin forests were prematurely depleted; diamonds and other minerals resources were illegally extracted and proceeds generated were used to fuel internal and regional conflicts without any reciprocity in the form of employment and benefit for local communities such as schools, roads, clinics, etc. This is considered environmental torture and injustice to say the least. To add to the dilemma, the destruction of virgin forest left catastrophic chain reactions: deforestation, desertification and erosion and air pollution, all of which are major contributors of contaminants /pollutants to the entire water corridor [streams, creeks, lakes, rivers, oceans] that is so precious and of essence to our survival as people and nation.

One of the cardinal factors that propelled the just ended Liberia Peace meeting in Accra, Ghana, has much bearing on the environmental degradation associated with the illegal extraction of natural resources, the diversion of proceeds prompted UN sanctions and subsequent indictment of former President Charles Taylor by the international community. Since the restoration of law and order to Monrovia, Liberia, little or no attention has been given to the state of the environment by the Liberia government and the International Community. The nomenclature [EPA of Liberia] under whose control the state of the nation’s environment falls is unheard of by ordinary Liberia citizens. One would think that with the deteriorating condition of the environment, the issue would be of paramount in the process of rebuilding Liberia. Are the nation and its leaders reverting to the ugly past of national environmental neglect or business as usual with foreign concession?

Realistically, Liberia is environmentally victimized and only a 911 emergency can save it. Unquestionably, Liberia is plagued with myriad of environmental problems. Every facet, including water and sanitation is severely threatened. Public places such as hospitals, offices, parks, and learning centers, are destined to a tragic fate. The uncontrolled human and animal feces and the abandoned decomposed human corpse, with diseases of epidemic proportions, are channeled into our water bodies during precipitation or rainfalls.

Almost every street corner has a pile of trash and abandoned vehicles. Unattended refuge/trash poses sanitary hazards to the environment. At the stage of decomposition [chemical reaction] the garbage/trash produces toxic liquid known as leachate. Leachate is very harmful to underground and surface water. Beside the terrible odor that pollutes the air, the pile of garbage also serves as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are host to several deadly transmittable diseases to human. The rust from these abandoned scraps iron or vehicles have high toxicity levels that cause water borne diseases. Even a handshake in Liberia is potentially risky because of the poor sanitary exposure. With of all these evolving environmental nuisances, it has not dawned on ordinary Liberians the severity of the consequences facing the healthy and safety condition largely due to the lack of fundamental understanding [education] of the obvious dangers. Poor sanitary environment accounts for more deaths than the gun shots fatalities.

Liberians at home and in the Diaspora must be the saving grace. Together we must be the caring and helping voices of our destitute people and country. We must pressure the government to fulfill its constitutional obligations and challenge ourselves [Liberians] to help before appealing for international institutions to aid. A Healthy And Productive Citizen Begins With A Healthy Environment. We Have A Moral Obligation To Help. We Must Not Let Our People Down This Time Around.

Few months ago, the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, (ULAA) conducted “Operation Sweep Clean” through its Environmental Committee and in collaboration with the Monrovia City Corporation (Mayor of Monrovia and staff). The campaign was a major environmental clean up of Monrovia. The campaign, dubbed “Operation Sweep Clean” lasted for three working days. Approximately 8 tons of trash was collected. Close to $1,800.00 (eighteen thousand dollars) was spent to purchase wheelbarrows, brooms, shovels, wipers, heavy duty trash bags, hand gloves, mouth and nose masks, T-shirts, fuel oil and gas for the vehicles owned by the City Corporation. This amount covered stipends given to over 150 volunteers. It may not appear as a huge accomplishment, but it is a good beginning with a greater impact. Operation Sweep Clean provided environmental awareness for our people and left an indelible impression about the importance of clean environment and the role of ordinary Liberians as stewards of their environment. Let’s be a part of the solution. Stay tune to subsequent writings for details on how help can be best extended individually or collectively to meet our many national challenges.

About the Author: Morris Koffa is National Vice President of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) and an Environmental Engineer living in the metropolitan DC area.