Fear of waterborne diseases in slum communities in and around Monrovia has been expressed following the announcement of the termination of the waterways and beaches cleaning project by the government.
The announcement was contained in a statement released by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) when it met with community leaders to announce the payment of five out of eight months’ arrears owed the beach workers.
The nearly 1900 contract workers protesting on May 25 in demand of their arrears, prevented MFDP workers from entering their offices.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) MFDP reached with the workers said they would accept a settlement equivalent to five months (January to May 2015) and they agreed to terminate any existing relationship with the government until such time and under such conditions that the government can initiate a contractual agreement with them.
In an interview, several of the workers said while the settlement of the arrears was welcome, the termination of the contract would reverse all the gains achieved since the project was initiated on September 15, 2011.
The project has helped slum communities of New Kru Town, West Point, PHP, ELWA, Sinkor and other areas to maintain cleaner environments. This has led to a substantial reduction in the spread of several waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dengue fever, diarrhea, malaria, ringworm, according to health officials who asked not to be named.
“Our fear now is that with the termination of the project,” a worker who has been with the project for the last five years said, “our beaches will suffer abuse since we will not be there to prevent people from toileting and throwing dirt there.”
Investigations conducted by the Daily Observer noted that the project, under the theme, “Reclaiming Liberia’s Beaches & Waterways,” was launched by the Liberia Maritime Authority, (LMA). At the time, Maritime Commissioner Binyah Kesselly proudly stated that it was meant to clean and maintain Liberia’s beaches and waterways and make the country a healthier maritime nation.
“This project,” Kesselly said in September 2011, “will provide jobs for nearly 5,000 citizens, particularly the youths nationwide.” Kesselley stated then that communities involved would present a certain number of workers, with New Kru Town providing 500 workers.
Commissioner Kesselly noted further that the project was President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s promise to make Liberia a maritime nation as well as provide jobs for destitute Liberians.
Kesselly boldly stated, “One of the greatest visions of President Sirleaf is that Liberia becomes a maritime nation and this is what we are striving to achieve. Besides, this is another means of empowering our citizens by providing jobs for them.”
Cleaning and maintaining the beaches, Mr. Kesselly stated, would attract foreign investors. It could not be confirmed as to whether the project had resulted in any direct or indirect investment in the country.
“I remember Commissioner Kesselly also saying that the government, through Maritime, would build toilet facilities in all slum communities to prevent people from using the beaches.
“This did not happen and now the government is terminating the project and I am wondering if the primary objectives have been achieved,” he said.
In President Sirleaf’s Annual Message to the nation in January 2013, she included the empowerment of slum dwellers, making specific reference to ‘Reclaiming the Beaches and Waterways’ project workers.
Despite the project’s positive intent, the LMA and the government were unable to pay the 1900 workers on time every month.
The LMA could not stand the frustration and recently decided to pull out of the project, an official conceded.