Liberia: Water Now Flows from Taps at Monrovia Central Prison

An inmate of the Monrovia Central Prison carrying water fetched from an open well that can be easily contaminated to his colleagues.

Inmates at the Monrovia Central Prison are expected to no longer have to fetch water from an open well and transport the same in heavy 6-gallon containers across the prison cells. Why? They now have pipe-borne water. 

The blessing, which was made possible by Indian businessman Upjit Singh Sachdeva, resulted in the fixing of the prison water supply – putting an end to the inadequate water supply and the daily task of inmates fetching water for hygiene and drinking.

Before the fix, prisoners used to collect and distribute water across the prison facilities by turn. Worst of all, they suffered also from plumbing problems, making life in the prisons even more miserable as a result of prisoners being unable to flush toilets for days.

“The administration of the prison wishes to thank you for fixing the prison water supply and sewage system, which we asked for during your last humanitarian visits to the prison in October,” writes Varney G. Lake, Superintendent of the prison in a letter to Sachdeva.

The letter added: “We are proud of your quick response to our plea and the work done by your team of engineers, which has now led to the fix of our water supply and sewage system. Because of you, the prison now has water running in all of its housing, clinic, bakery, and other sites that need water. 

“Additionally, you also blessed us when you included in the project the installation of 2,500 liters poly tanks for water storage along with a 5.5 KVA generator for the supply of water when there is a power outage from the Liberia Electricity Corporation,” Supt. Lake added. “In this regard, the leadership of the Monrovia Central Prison does appreciate and say big thank you for putting smiles on the faces of the inmate population and the entire workforce of the prison.”

The Prison Superintendent added that they are aware of the government’s constraints in terms of maintaining prisons, but whenever they make an appeal, Sachdeva is always available to assist with their need.

The issue of lack of running water and broken sewage at the prison, which has now been fixed by Mr. Sachdeva, are among the many age-old problems challenging the aging prisons. Prisoners without access to running water used to put their bottles through the cell bars so they can be filled by inmates who were allowed outside to fetch water and climb the steps of the prison with the water, which is then poured into the bottles.

Currently, the prison also suffers from gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poor medical care. 

Approximately one-half of the country’s 2,572 prisoners were at the Monrovia Central Prison, which was originally built for 374 detainees but now hosts more than 1000 prisoners. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO), Prison Fellowship Liberia, reported that overcrowding in Block D of the Monrovia Central Prison required prisoners to sleep in shifts and that prisoner diets remained poor. The Prison sometimes served rice alone, with prisoners purchasing oil from vendors at the prison to supplement their diet, according to the U.S. government report on Human Rights Practices in Liberia for 2020.

Meanwhile, Sachdeva repaired the prison water and sewage systems comes a month after the government of Liberia has commended for developing a reputation of helping disadvantaged members of Liberian society.

And during an October visit to the prison, he provided hot cooking for the inmates as well as 150 mattresses, 70 empty gallons, and 75 buckets.

“The government wants to use this occasion to commend Sachdeva for his humanitarian gesture towards the national prison facility in Monrovia, as well as buttressing our efforts in providing basic social services for our people,” said Deputy Information Minister Jallawa Tonpo at a press conference in October. 

Also, Sachdeva’s work on the prison water system comes 10 years after the ICRC had repaired the prison sewerage systems and built a 20,000 liter underground water tank and a 10,000 liter water reservoir, which were connected to the city's main water supply network, providing water to the prison for the first time since the beginning of the war in 1989.

But after a while, the fix needed to be repaired and, given the prison’s budgetary constraints, the facilities returned to their pre-war status of fetching water from well and broken sewage systems. 

 Sachdeva, who has also been supporting the prison with monthly essential materials, has however promised to underwrite repairs or upgrades at the prison whenever there is a problem, as well as the renovation or construction of rehabilitation centers for skills training.