Flooding is one of the most prevalent and devastating disasters in Liberia. It happens every year in many parts of Liberia. And it has significant social and economic impacts. It threatens sustainability because it negatively affects the economy, health, social life, and environment.
The extent and nature of Liberia’s flooding are such that the actual figures for displacements, losses, and fatalities cannot be truly ascertained due to poor record and reporting, however, according to the United Nations Office for Partnership (UNOP), around 2.2 million people are exposed to floods, 320,000 to coastal erosion and 2.1 million to windstorms in Liberia.
Causes of Flooding in Liberia
According to a 2021 study from the UN University, the academic and research arm of the UN, human activity is the common link between natural disasters around the world. Unlike some natural disasters, rainfall flooding can be controlled with proper planning and the provision of necessary infrastructure. Liberia's flooding is mainly human-induced with poor urban planning practices and inadequate environmental infrastructure as contributing factors.
Poor or non-existent drainage systems are a major cause of flooding in Liberia. Many residential areas have no drainage system and rely on natural drainage channels. Increasing urbanization also means more areas are built with concrete and cannot absorb water, increasing runoff. The country's poor waste management is another recognized factor. Citizens’ poor attitude toward waste disposal and non-provision of waste disposal services by city authorities contribute to flooding. It is not uncommon to have drains blocked by huge piles of trash in Monrovia and its environs.
Due to high unemployment in rural Liberia, the country is experiencing unregulated urban expansion. The country is experiencing high urbanization rates without commensurate provision of urban infrastructure and amenities. Swamplands are increasingly being converted to residential areas to accommodate housing needs. It seems that Liberia has no planning law. One consequence of this is that there have been construction projects on natural floodplains and stormwater paths. This has exacerbated flooding.
Corruption is also a factor. It is not uncommon for city planning officials to accept bribes and overlook issues. These may include unauthorized use of land and alteration of approved construction plans. While some citizens also capitalize on the loophole of ineffective development control and extend their buildings over the approved areas. Sometimes they go as far as building over drains.
Liberia’s President Weah's response to flooding is typical of Liberian politicians. He used the flooding national disaster to score photo ops every time these floods occurred in Liberia. Like most Liberian politicians, President Weah gets out of his luxury car and promises to build new homes for flood victims. But what is missing is appropriate action to mitigate the flooding. The Liberia National Disaster Risk Management policy provided by the National Disaster Management Agency of Liberia (NDMA) does not put more emphasis on flooding management. The lack of flood management policy is an indication of the low importance given to controlling and managing floods in Liberia.
What needs to be done?
Historically, politicians have been more focused on post-disaster flood response for photo ops than control. Reducing and addressing exposure to flooding risk is now a national priority in the Liberian government’s disaster risk agenda. However, nothing concrete has been achieved. Also, the NDMA, an agency responsible for all disaster management in Liberia is less funded. In the 2022 budget, while the Presidency was given US$20 million and the Legislature US$64.3 million, the NDMA was allocated USD $846,386. This raises questions about the political will to achieve the goals of tackling floods in the country.
Questions: Does the government of Liberia have research institutions and agencies with the skills to design a flood risk management strategy? Does the National Disaster Management Agency of Liberia have a department of planning utilizing geographical information systems to work on flood data? In Liberia, there are no effective national early warning systems in place for floods at the national and local levels.
Crafting flood risk management policy and integrating spatial planning is the way to go. Sustainable urban planning and green infrastructure could also be combined with information and communication technology tools. Citizens can use these to communicate with the relevant authorities at the onset of flooding. Addressing Liberia’s perennial flooding is important for the country to make progress. The human-induced causes of flooding should be addressed urgently. Not doing this will delay its journey to sustainable development.