Liberia: Liberia’s Urban Sanitation Problem

In Montserrado County (Paynesville city), PCC-Jeremiah Didggen, Margibi (Kakata), Mayor Emmanuel Goll,  and Nimba (Gompa) Mayor Amos N.G Suah highlighted limited logistical support, empathy, limited awareness as hindrance to the implementation of  Environmental Sanitation law

How political, social interests sabotage enforcement of environmental law

By Siaway T. Miapue

In various Liberian cities, unsanitary conditions resulting from improper waste management have become a pervasive issue. The absence of effective waste disposal and limited enforcement of environmental sanitation laws have compounded this problem. This article sheds light on the challenges faced by local authorities in addressing this critical issue and highlights the need for collective action to promote cleaner, healthier communities.

Waste Accumulation in Kakata

Thelma Cooper’s daily struggle with the stench emanating from a nearby garbage pile is emblematic of the issues faced in Kakata city. 

The unsanitary conditions, primarily caused by waste accumulation from households, markets, and clinics, pose a severe health risk. As a result, local business owners like Madam Cooper are left with no choice but to endure these conditions, affecting their livelihoods.

“No way to eat, no way to sit down. When customers come, they complain about the filthiness and leave. We are also getting sick from the dirt… we are just begging the government to bring trucks to throw the dirt from here. We are getting sick from this dirt business,” Cooper said.

Environmental Sanitation Legislation

Liberia has enacted legislation, including the Public Health Law, Part III Environmental Sanitation, to regulate waste disposal. However, the effective implementation of these laws is hindered by limited support for local authorities, including mayors, councils, and law enforcement officers. This has allowed improper waste disposal to persist across streets of major cities.
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Kakata City Mayor, Emmanuel Goll says despite the limited logistics, the city corporation has not been able to apprehend people for illegal disposal of waste on the city streets.

Challenges in Enforcement:
Enforcing waste disposal regulations presents several challenges for local authorities. Limited resources, including manpower and logistical support, hinder their efforts. The Kakata City Mayor revealed to K-NEWS that violations often occur during late hours when manpower is scarce, making it difficult to apprehend culprits. Additionally, interventions from government officials, family members, and friends frequently lead to the release of violators without penalties.

 “The unfortunate part is that I, the City Mayor, have not been fortunate to arrest anybody that is doing these acts. These things are not done during the day. They do it by 12 midnight, 1 to 2 o'clock AM. That is the time these guys do these things and I don’t have the required manpower (city police) to be able to curtail these problems,” Goll said. 

Appeals for Government Action

Local traders like Thelma Cooper and Mammie Gboto appeal to the Liberian government for immediate intervention. They highlight the adverse effects on their businesses and overall health due to the unattended waste issue. Their pleas underscore the urgent need for logistical support to address this crisis.

 “The business I am making, I am embarrassed… no way for me to sit and sell, each day we come here to search for our daily bread, the bad smell from the dirt is disturbing and making us sick,” Mammie Gboto said.

Like Kakata, Ganta City also struggles with logistical challenges in waste collection, contributing to the buildup of waste in the streets.

Ganta City Mayor, Amons N.G Suah told K-NEWS that despite limited manpower, compassion on violators remains one of the major challenges to enforcing the environmental sanitation law- Photo: Siaway T. Miapue C:\Users\Siaway T. Miapue\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Word\IMG-20230815-WA0000.jpgC:\Users\Siaway T. Miapue\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Word\IMG-20230815-WA0011.jpg

Ganta Mayor Amos N.G Suah highlights that although environmental sanitation laws exist, their enforcement is hindered by compassion shown towards violators. Government officials, family members, and friends frequently intervene when violators are apprehended, often leading to their release without fines.

“The law is on the books, but because of the way we live in our society, it is difficult to implement the law fully. Liberians have sympathy for one another and the moment you begin to enforce the law, you will see people calling from all over to pardon them… But we often levy fines on violators and punish some of them”.C:\Users\Siaway T. Miapue\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Word\IMG-20230825-WA0137.jpg

In Whein Town, Paynesville, Montserrado, Freeman Zerlee says with the increase of waste posing health hazards, they are left with no option but to undertake self-initiatives to keep their communities tidy but the area continue to be filthy

In Paynesville, residents like Freeman Zerlee have taken matters into their own hands by organizing community initiatives for waste management. They recognize the health hazards posed by improper waste disposal and have initiated efforts to clean their environment. However, they stress the importance of community-wide support.

 “Since I moved in this community in 2018, we have been experiencing this situation, but in Liberia, we just need to join together and do the work. Sometimes, we can put some of our boys together and pack this dirt and take it to the dumpsite because in the night, we continue to experience the increase in mosquitoes and people continue to get sick from this dirt,” Zerlee said. 

PCC Public Relation officer, Jeremiah Diggen said the lack of behavior change is hindering the full implementation of the law as waste of all kind continue to grow tall along the streetsC:\Users\Siaway T. Miapue\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Word\Screenshot_20230817-151549_Video Player.jpgC:\Users\Siaway T. Miapue\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Word\IMG-20230825-WA0146.jpg

Jeremiah Diggen of the Paynesville City Corporation emphasizes the importance of awareness and behavior change. While fines have been imposed on violators, he believes that education and communication are key to transforming citizens’ attitudes towards waste disposal. Encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their environment is crucial.

 “We have been fining violators of the environmental law, but I think what we need to do right now is to keep talking, and we are appealing to the media to help us so that we can be able to create more awareness about the importance of keeping your environment clean, about the importance of having a clean city, but the law is there and we keep arresting people every day but it is just about talking with them so they can be able to change,” Jeremiah Diggen said. 

YUGNET Liberia Executive Director, Godsent Wherdiagar- Photo: Siaway T. Miapue 

A Holistic Approach

Environmental experts and activists call for a holistic approach to tackle Liberia's waste management challenges. They stress the need for greater support, education, and awareness campaigns to promote proper waste disposal practices and maintain cleaner environments. Youth-led organizations, like Youth Go Green Network (YUGNET Liberia), are urged to work closely with communities to drive behavior change.

“The national government needs to work with youth-led organizations involved with climate change among others to work with their communities and inform them about the effect of keeping the environment filthy and how a change in behavior can help achieve that,” Amb. Wedrdiagar said. 

The unsanitary conditions prevailing in Liberian cities demand immediate attention and collective action. Adequate support for local authorities, coupled with education and awareness initiatives, can pave the way for cleaner, healthier communities. It is crucial for the government, local organizations, and citizens to come together to address these challenges and create a brighter, cleaner future for Liberia.