LIBERIA: The Nucleus to Reducing Poverty

By Francis W. Nyepon

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
Sept 6, 2007


This article explores the core factors to reducing persistent poverty in Liberia, which this author believes holds the key to unlocking our persistent challenge with sustainable development. It explores the dynamics of structural poverty not from the view of micro and macro economic levels of constraints that limits growth, such as stagnation, unemployment, poor production, and lack of access to markets, or from the undisputed understanding that the majority of Liberians are materially poor. But rather, from a perspective, which integrates and adopts an environmental-based approach that deals with the shocks in public health, sanitation, safe drinking water and hygiene promotion as necessary first steps to reducing poverty.

The discussion in this thesis is framed in terms of sanitary environment as the center from which chronic poverty can effectively be reduced in Liberia. Given the staggering number of urban poor caused by the massive rural-urban migration over the past 20 years, this view underscores the need for a rigorous, strategic focus on how to best propel self-reinforcing growth, while making the environment conducive to provide opportunity to acquire skill, improve livelihood and make health conditions better.

Past approaches towards sustaining development have failed to generate broadly based economic growth needed for sustainable poverty reduction; thereby, allowing the frequency of poverty to increase faster than the population or even from services provided and revenue realized from foreign investment interests. For example, foreign investment enterprises, (Firestone/BF Goodridge Tire and Rubber Company, Liberian-American Mining Company (LAMCO), Brussels Airlines, Bong Mining Company, the Liberian International Ship Registry (LISCR),Liberian Agricultural Company, and the conglomeration of under-priced and under performing GSM mobile operators, the notorious Oriental Timber Company (OTC) among others), have failed average Liberia because their focus has only been to exploit the country’s considerable natural wealth and resources without any consideration for institutional, infrastructural and manpower development.

Poverty in Liberia has predominantly been a rural and peri-urban phenomenon, having its roots in policy and institutional failure due to corruption, cronyism and mismanagement, which caused over 85% of Liberians to have no access to basic healthcare, sanitation, safe drinking water, and hygiene, making these factors fundamental and critical to our persistent challenge with reducing poverty. Historically, successive governments have often not view these factors as the basis from which to ignite change and cohesion as a means of alleviating poverty. Many bureaucrats and policymakers have instead viewed these critical factors from the prism of an annoyance to party rule, class domination and ethnic supremacy. Usually, they place these factors low on the national list of priorities due to their vision of them being social impediment typically associated with the poor and underprivileged and not necessarily linked to national development (infrastructural, economic and manpower). This lack of focus and awareness has remained central to Liberia’s persistent challenge with poverty and will continue to present the greatest barrier to implementing appropriate policies and satisfactory projects to influence or propel self-reinforcing growth within a majority cross-section of our population.

This key to unlocking our challenge with persistent poverty should not go unnoticed and attended to by the Sirleaf administration, given the fact that it has rhetorically placed poverty reduction at the core of the country’s recovery efforts since coming to power two years ago. Liberians are aware that there are so many other pressing needs for the attention of the Sirleaf administration: security, unemployment, education, consumer prices, food supply, malnutrition and dealing with the psychosocial consequence of 14-years of war. However, they are equally cognizant that poor sanitation, unsafe drinking water, hygiene and unsanitary environment have a detrimental public health impact on the population and a devastating drag on our recovery. Hence, to further peace, reconciliation, stability, and development, the Sirleaf administration should begin to engage in a major reorganization and reprioritizing of several key development pillars that would have the urgent propensity to improve access to basic services like sanitation, healthcare, hygiene and sanitary environment as the basis to commence an effective poverty reduction strategy and set in motion the necessary procedures for promoting lasting security and reconciliation as the means to achieving sustainable development.

The viability and recovery of the Liberian economy rests heavily on the wellness and productivity of its citizens; hence, improving public health, sanitation, safe drinking water, and hygiene would in deed make the environment sanitary, which in tern would form the basis from which poverty can be tackled and reduced. This is why, the Sirleaf administration should begin to build the necessary capacity at the peri-urban and village levels to ensure that the proviso to implement such basic services is injected into the society. Poverty in these communities causes life to become increasingly chaotic, sometimes in disarray and in disgust with invariable clashes between social groups due to class, ethnicity and politics. This places restraints on cohesion, stability and reconciliation and will continue dogging efforts by the Sirleaf administration at economic recovery and sustainable development. Therefore, an environmental-based approach to development should be integrated and adopted at the local level and become a primary aim of the Sirleaf administration, especially if self-reinforcing growth is to ever take root to sustain development in Liberia.

This author is in awe as to where the urgency and priority are in this administration regarding sanitation, safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitary environment as requirements to reducing poverty? Countless policymakers in the administration continue to lend a blind eye to the many health benefits to the individual, the community and to society from improved sanitation, environmental health and hygiene, not recognizing the fact that public investment in these areas would lead to substantial returns in the form of better public health and associated economic benefits to the country as a whole. The quality of life in peri-urban and rural communities is extremely pathetic. Squalor, lack of protected water, clogged drains, the practice of open defecation and untreated sewage, rotten garbage makes living extremely challenging and difficult, and these factors are at the crux of the poverty dilemma in Liberia.

The Sirleaf administration’s Poverty Reduction Strategy should give a much higher priority to sanitation, safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitary environment in national planning for health and investment in infrastructure. Sanitation and sanitary environment should be integrated with other pertinent aspects of our recovery and development, e.g., education, trade, road construction, community development, maternal and child health, including agricultural development, a key pillar of our economic recovery agenda. The political will for investment in these critical areas should be mustered by the president herself, and a focus on targeting the highest risk communities assembled. If nothing is done to fundamentally and effectively deal with these issue-areas, igniting the resolve to reduce poverty from the bottom up will dangerously harm the population, and definitely jeopardize the administration’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, hence it’s most critical place in our history.

The Sirleaf administration should encourage public-private initiatives that would allow for the acquisition of sanitation technologies and capital equipment suitable to our geographical and residential conditions. This sector should be decentralized. It should allow local communities to get more involved with the planning, implementing and maintaining of systems and services that directly affect long-term ecological and financial sustainability. The society should be decentralized and not continue to be left poorly organized and isolated in order to resurrect party domination and control over them for raw politics.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR : Francis Nyepon is managing partner of DUCOR Waste Management in Liberia. He is a policy analyst and Vice-Chair of the Center for Security & Development Studies, and serves on several boards of humanitarian, environmental and human rights organizations in the United States and Liberia. He can be contacted at
© 2007 by The Perspective

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