Liberia’s Environment Remains Bleak

By Morris Koffa


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 18, 2004

It is now over four months and counting since the United Nations-sponsored Donor Conference was held in New York City in February 2004 for the post war reconstruction of Liberia. Donor countries and international aid agencies in sympathy with Liberia’s plight pledged over half a billion dollars to the rebuilding of the war-ravaged nation. Liberians for the most part are grateful to the UN for marshalling such financial resources in an unprecedented historical overtures for the much needed reconstruction efforts for Liberia after 14 years of a senseless human carnage, wanton destruction of properties and the blighted state of the nation’s ruined environment.

In his emotional appeal to the United Nations, Liberian Interim Transitional Head of State, Chairman Gyude Bryant highlighted the state of Liberia’s environmental degradation as one of the legacies of the 14-year civil war. Subsequent speakers at different events including the head of the UNMIL Mission in Liberia, Ambassador Jacque Klein and other prominent dignitaries also echoed similar sentiments.

The unpalatable state of Liberia’s environment in over a century of total neglect is marked by colossal failures of empty promises by past administrations with very little or no action taken to save the ailing environment and its natural multitude of species. After many years of neglect and hopelessness, there are irksome reasons for environmentalists to be frantically nervous as the dark past is trailed once again by a gloomy future at the detriment of the nation and its present and future generations. Past experiences of environmental neglect are vivid as the debate to the solution hangs in the balance with a cloudy uncertainty. Lack of adequate funding will certainly undermine the advocated acceptable threshold of environmental sanity that is being preached for a nation so environmentally destitute and gruesomely mutilated.

From the queue of countless environmental problems, there is an urgent need for greater emphasis for adequate funding for the environment--- from poor sanitary health hazards, reclamation of contaminated land areas, water bodies, deforestation, air pollution and extinction of biodiversities--- caused by major companies such as Firestone Plantation Company, LAMCO, BMC, NIOC etc. The need for stronger environmental laws and ordiances must be instituted as a guide to companies wishing to do business in Liberia.

As the nation prepares for the repatriation and resettlement of about one million refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), across Africa and the world, it is extremely important that the environment is conducive to receive them and nurture their physical and mental growth as the reconstruction unfolds. Healthy sanitary conditions among other relevant human health factors are so critical and must be considered as a major component in the implementation of Disarmament Demobilization Reintegration and Resettlement, (DDRR) process. The nation’s environmental problems continue to increase while funding significantly decreases.

From a scientific environmental perspective, there are obvious challenges of additional environmental burdens amidst the existing problems that must be considered in the undertaking of the task of national reconstruction. The combined one million war-traumatized refugees and IDPs, added to the existing desperate, and overburdened population in an environment with stretched-thin sanitary capacity is a national disaster in the making. The repatriation of refugees will exponentially increase the need for food production, more trash and human waste being generated, the need for safe drinking water, and the construction of housing to accommodate the new returnees and the IDPS. Hospitals and schools will be overcrowded.

According to the Joint Needs Assessment study conducted by the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), the United Nations and the World Bank for 2004 and 2005, $52.2 million, or roughly about 10 percent of the total pledged from the Donor Conference was allotted for the following:

· $10.3 million for community water and sanitation - to improve levels of community-base water and excreta disposal facilities in Monrovia;
· $6.8 million for community water and sanitation - improve levels of water and excreta disposal facilities in rural communities (Liberia’s 14 Counties);
· $26.4 million for Urban Water Supply and Sanitation – sustainable and strengthened governance, co-ordination, revenue control and transparency, solid waste disposal systems for six urban areas outside Monrovia, improving Monrovia sewerage and eradicate sewerage contaminated in populated areas of Monrovia;
· $8.7 million for forestry, extractive industries and management of natural resources – policies and improved practice in natural resources management (forestry, diamond, water logging etc).

Considering the enormous environmental challenges at hand, the amount apportioned is a good start but not enough to deal with the overall environmental degradation, provided it is directed solely for the intended purpose. Rural environmental problems are less of a focus according to the distribution of the allotted funding.

The City of Monrovia has reached its pinnacles of playing host to the upsurge in urban migration as the city of save heaven. The City of Monrovia needs to be depopulated in order to achieve its maximum environmental soundness. Therefore, it is not environmentally advisable to increase its current human capacity. But human survival and the need for a safe environment for citizens constantly on the run from marauding gun-toting fighters is a major contributing factor in the over population of Monrovia. The age-old City infrastructures--water supply, sewer system, and other public utilities-- were built to accommodate 350,000 to 450,000 residents. Today, the current population of the City of Monrovia stands at about 1.3 million. Every conceivable environmental problem is near insurmountable. The absence of public latrines and relevant sanitary facilities leaves residents with no options but to using ocean beeches and public surroundings to defecate. Human and animal feces dangerously undermine water quality; all of which aggravates chronic outbreaks of cholera, malaria, typhoid and other waterborne diseases that have turned Liberia into an inescapable death trap.

There are alarming cases of epidemic outbreaks totaling 26,000 due to poor sanitary conditions in the span of three months among residents in Monrovia and other surroundings, according to the UNEP report of 2003. The home coming of refugees to an already fragile environmental community only exacerbates the current environmental problems. Over population of a community is an impetus to environmental nightmares. Monrovia must be depopulated and rural environmental concerns must be addressed so as to attract more people migrating to rural areas. Government should institute some social incentives to lure businesses in these rural areas for job opportunities and others social attractions for the residents. Jobs creations in rural Liberia, coupled with other social empowerment undertakings will help reduce or at least alleviate massive clearing of forest/farmlands for firewood and the hunting of bush meat for food that would otherwise threaten biodiversities, fauna and flora community.

According to a recent UNEP post-conflict assessment on the environment in Liberia, only 26 percent of the population now has access to safe drinking water. Statistically, 74 percent of the current population in Liberia is doomed to the tragic health consequences. With the return of our brothers and sisters from around the African continent and the Diaspora, the number of residents with no access to safe drinking water would have risen to about 85 to 90 percent. The environmental degradation must be given warranted attention necessary for adequate funding to combat the problems of environmental self-destruction.

Considering all of these environmental concerns, the state of Liberia’s environment remains naked proverbially. Since the inception of the National Transitional Government of Liberia, the state of the environment continues to deteriorate. The Liberian Environmental Protection Agency, EPA is silent while the country braces for worst environmental troubles.

The Liberia Environmental Watch, LEW, and the environmental community of Liberia are profoundly concerned and worried that the nation is not making progress to ease the environmental burden on the citizens and residents. The Government of Liberia must be awakened to the health dangers that lie ahead. This is a danger that continues to decimate thousands of the less fortunate of Liberians. This again is a wakeup call to a doom-day every Liberian and our friends in the international community should constantly sound the alarm and become advocate for a sustainable environment for this generation and generations yet unborn.

About the author: Morris Koffa is an Environmental Engineer & advocate