Misery, Quarrels Hurt Gbarpolu County

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Gbarpolu County still lacks basic socio-economic infrastructures, including hand pumps, toilets, schools and health centers as well as a good road network. There is also a very high unemployment rate.
A visit by the Daily Observer to the county over the weekend also revealed that Gbarpolu is still experiencing land disputes between and among chiefdoms and boundaries with other counties.
Moreover, the Legislative Caucus is heatedly at loggerheads.
Health
Dr. Trokon Washington: “The county has a high rate of teenage pregnancy, most of which are delivered through surgery because there are often complications due to the girls’ bodies not being mature enough.”
Gbarpolu, created in 2001 by an act of the National Legislature, has a population of about 110,000 but has one major understaffed referral hospital – the Chief Jallah-Lone Medical Center – and 15 clinics in the six districts of the county.
An incurable viral infection, called Hepatitis-B, is one of the major health problems in the county, especially amongst the adult male and female population.
The director of the Medical Center, Dr. Trokon Washington, told the Daily Observer that Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis-B virus. It can cause chronic infection and puts people at high risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer, he said.
Dr. Washington said the vaccine to prevent infection as well as the one that can also prevent the development of chronic disease and liver cancer due to hepatitis-B is not in the county.
Though he did not state the number of deaths since it became prevalent, a reliable source said since 2010, about 70 persons have died from hepatitis B virus.
Dr. Washington said the terrible road conditions in three of the six districts in Belleh, Kongba and Gounwolaila contribute to the increase in the mortality rate, especially among pregnant women.
He revealed that the county has a high rate of teenage pregnancy, most of which are delivered through surgery because there are often complications due to the girls’ bodies not being mature enough.
Dr. Washington said the hospital experiences a flood of teenage pregnancy cases mainly between May and June. Teenage and adult pregnancies that come from inaccessible areas and experience prolonged labor are sometimes operated on for the survival of both mother and baby, he said, but noted that sometimes mothers survive.
He said the poor road network in the county does not allow people to get timely medical help at the hospital.
“There is the need for more Physician Assistants and trained midwives in the county to boost the county’s health delivery,” Dr. Washington said.
Education
County Education Officer Catakaw: “Almost all of the students in the makeshift structures sit on pieces of wood.”
About 70% of the 129 schools in Gbarpolu County are makeshift (mud structures), especially schools in Belleh, Kongba and Gounwolaila and some parts of Bokomu District.
Almost all of the students in the makeshift structures sit on pieces of wood, the County Education Officer, Mr. Danwolo B.S. Catakaw told the Daily Observer. Out of the 129 schools, there are only three high schools.
Mr. Catakaw said 66% of the over 400 teachers in the district are unqualified, but “they are qualified because of their availability.”
“We actually need at least 200 trained teachers and erection of [concrete] buildings, proper chairs and tables,” Mr. Catakaw indicated.
The CEO also said most of the older youths are not interested in school, opting for mining of gold and diamond in the county.
Disunity
Superintendent Armah M. Sarnor and the Acting Coordinator of the proposed Gbarpolu Peace Council, Sylvester G. Varmah
The youths, which make up 73% of the County, are divided and are in conflict owing to politics. They are divided between the two Senators, Daniel Naatehn and Armah Jallah, who is the President Pro Tempore.
The rift between the Senators and consequently among the youth started in 2011 when Sen. Jallah ousted Daniel Naatehn. It intensified in 2014 when the former Senator Naatehn declared no confidence in Gbarpolu County Senator Theodore Momo – who was supported by Sen. Jallah. Sen. Naatehn won the 2014 Special Senatorial elections and he declared no confidence in Sen. Jallah, who contested the President Pro Tempore seat and emerged victorious.
The county is now seriously divided with traded accusations and seeds of discord, effectively hampering development, peace and unity in the county.
The disunity in the Gbarpolu Legislative Caucus and among the youths has now affected the adults.
According to Superintendent Armah M. Sarnor and the Acting Coordinator of the proposed Gbarpolu Peace Council, Sylvester G. Varmah, there are two land disputes in the county and two boundaries disputes.
Both local officials said the Bondi-Mandingo Chiefdom and the Gungbayai Chiefdom almost got into a “bloody fight” over a piece of land, where a cocoa farm of NEC Commissioner Jonathan Weedor is located.
There is another land dispute between the Bopolu and Belle Districts, according to the two officials.
Superintendent Sarnor told the Observer that the issue of land disputes in the county is unprecedented, and he has therefore scheduled a meeting with the paramount chiefs of Gungbayai, Bondi-Mandingo and Tawalata (Konige) as well as the paramount chiefs of Bokomu District.
“Paramount Chiefs Momo T. Kamara and William K. Mawolo, Sr. and others will be there for the meeting to find out why after more than 75 years of peaceful living among ourselves, we should now fight for land,” Supt. Sarnor said.
Besides the internal land dispute, the county is also having boundary dispute with Bong and Bomi counties.
Sime Darby
Partial view of the youths against the operations of Sime Darby unless the agreement is revisited
Regarding the very high unemployment rate in the county, most of the youths are against the operation of Sime Darby, requesting for the six-year agreement the government signed with the company to be reviewed.
Although the county is experiencing “a poor economic situation” evidently because of the absence of concessions, besides the understaffed Earthsource in Gbarma District, representatives of the youths said they have been against the operation of the 2009 Sime Darby Agreement and want the concession agreement to be revisited with the involvement of the people.
Over 20 youths at the Chief Jallah-Lone Palm Wine and Intellectual Forum said if Sime Darby continues to operate without renegotiation, ‘country devils’ in the county could uproot their palm trees.
Varney Johnson, Rufus Clarke and Quaqua described the Sime Darby concession agreement as a “secret and bad agreement” and they would remain steadfast in their objective to halt the operations of Sime Darby.
An elder, Mr. James Roberts, supported the idea of “revisiting the agreement.”
One of the Clan Chiefs of Bond-Mandingo Chiefdom, Dorbor Mawolo said they are in agreement with the deal because they believe their predecessors would not have agreed to any bad agreement.
Superintendent Sarnor, in an interview said his office would engage Sime Darby about the agreement in the interest of the county.
Sime Darby has not begun operations since 2009 owing to disagreement among the people.
Roads
The road leading to the county is impassable. Commercial and private cars are stuck in the mud and transport vehicles have threatened to increase their fare to L$1,000.
Besides the road leading to the county, three districts within the county are still inaccessible.

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