The Coronavirus pandemic, considered a health crisis, is impacting societies in many ways. In Liberia, one of the world’s poorest nations, the virus is more than just a health crisis; it has foisted economic hardship on the poorest of the society and worsened the country’s economic recovery trajectory.
The World Bank has projected that the country’s GDP will contract by 2.2 percent in this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak before recovering to 4.1 percent in 2022. Additionally, the poverty rate in the country is projected to increase from 44.5 percent in 2019 to 45.4 percent in 2020.
Procuring food in these trying times has become more difficult as purchasing power of citizens has drastically been eroded while prices of food have spiked.
For instance, a 50kg bag of rice, the country’s staple food, costs L$3,000 (approximately US$15), an amount 83 percent of the country’s population, which lives below the international poverty line, cannot afford.
Despite the variation of the impact of COVID-19 in the West African country, it’s the vulnerable population, which includes children, pregnant women, the elderly, malnourished and physically challenged, that are the worst hit. Shelter, food and medication are most mentioned among the country’s vulnerable population.
Amid these rising challenges, Ne-Suah B. Livingstone is helping them survive each day in the time of crisis.
She is at the forefront of rallying resources from relatives, neighbors, and friends that are beneficial to the vulnerable population in Montserrado County, the hardest-hit county in Liberia. Health authorities have confirmed 921 cases and 42 deaths in the county as of November 2.
During the first three months after health authorities announced the presence of Liberia’s index case of the Coronavirus, Ne-Suah recalls moments when she reached out to people via phone calls and social media platforms on the behalf of the most affected population. Help came through cash and kind, she says.
“We have been receiving cash and food items. We use the cash to buy bags of rice and cooking oil, which we give back to the disabled communities, the old folks center, and to poor families whose livelihoods have been affected because of the many restrictions imposed by our government,” said Ne-Suah.
When the coutry’s first Coronavirus case was confirmed four months ago, the government, led by football legend, President George M. Weah, instituted restrictions on the movement and gathering of people to contain the virus.
Earlier in April, a nationwide curfew was imposed; movement between counties was banned and the country’s borders were closed. Also, airports, hotels, schools, gaming centers, worship centers and non-essential businesses were shut down but subsequently reopened.
However, the relaxing of strict restrictions is still of limited impact on the country’s population as many cannot partake in economic activities because of low purchasing power and the high prices of goods and services.
This has left poor families still looking out for interventions similar to the relief package which Ne-suah and her team took to vulnerable families when strict restrictions were ordered by the Liberian government were still in effect. For Elizabeth Lincoln, surviving the times with her amputee daughter and jobless husband has been unbearable. But continual intervention from Ne-suah’s not-for-profit organization, the Rescued Abandoned and Children in Hardship (REACH) has given Elizabeth hope in this time of crisis.
“Before this virus, my daughter got sick to the point that the doctors had to cut her legs to save her life. We spent all that we had to save her. After her treatment, we went broke; we were surviving on friends’ tokens until we heard about Madam Livingstone. We told her our story and she promised to look around for us; luckily, she told us that she has found someone who is willing to help sponsor our daughter’s education while we try to get back on our feet. Besides that, we have received rice and other things from her during this time of crisis. For me, it is a miracle because I was thinking where to start from again,” said Elizabeth.
Between May and June, Ne-Suah has donated 800 bags of rice weighing 50kg each, and gallons of cooking oil to orphanages, the physically challenged communities, and poor families. She attributes the gesture to people which she says are sponsors of her giving, in cash and kind.
Apart from handing out relief-packages, Ne-Suah’s organization has been feeding underprivileged children in the Jacob Town Community along the Somalia Drive which is 35 minutes’ drive from the capital, Monrovia. Her team feeds about 200 children every weekend.
Her team uses social media outlets to raise awareness of the initiative.
“So we have used Facebook to encourage others to take on similar initiatives. We share pictures of what we are doing to stir up actions of goodwill. Some have started with similar actions and some have reached us expressing that they want to be a help. Some have hand-delivered their tokens and some of the people just wire the money via mobile money,” she said.
In Liberia, malnutrition has been identified as a silent killer of hundreds of children. According to UNICEF, in close to half of all child deaths, malnutrition is a major culprit. Liberia has high levels of childhood malnutrition, with a third of children under 5 stunted and 6 per cent acutely malnourished.
Food insecurity rate in the West African country could increase in the face of global pandemic, which is already affecting the global food system, supply chains, and purchasing practices.
An estimated 265 million people in low-income countries could go hungry in 2020, nearly double the 2019 figures, according to WFP’s projection in April.