Despite attracting about US$16 billion in foreign direct investment into the economy, the Government of Liberia faces the disturbing, embarrassing reality that a majority of its population battles daily against extreme poverty, forcing thousands to fetch food and things to sell from dumpsites around the main cities.
For many months now, an entire community called, Own Your Own, located on the periphery of the port city of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, have been surviving on “trash” dumped in an open area closely situated opposite the newly constructed U.S. military Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU).
Own Your Own (OYO), a community in the township of Harlandsville, comes to a standstill most mornings and afternoons when garbage collected from other parts of the city are transported there for disposal.
Interestingly, a bulk of the trash disposed in that locality is being generated by ArcelorMittal, an acclaimed international steel giant that has an investment of US$800 million for phase 1 and US$1.7 billion for phase 2 projects in Buchanan and other parts of Liberia.
The residents say that trucks from Mittal’s facility, the U.S. military stationed in the county and other sites arrive daily to dump their garbage at OYO. The arrival of these garbage trucks brings hundreds of people to the site in search of food and any items they can salvage to sell for their survival.
Grand Bassa County Superintendent Etweda Cooper confirmed what is taking place at the OYO dumpsite, saying, “that has been going on for a very long time now.” She expressed disappointment over the situation, but maintained that so many people including women and their children scavenging (searching) daily in the dumpsite to survive does not show extreme poverty in the county.
According to one of the consumers of the items from the dumpsite who declined to be named, they search the garbage to collect food for their households and also take other materials they collect to sell at the general market in Buchanan City.
An aging lady believed to be in her late 70s, proudly said; “Sometimes we take good, good things from here and sell them in the market and use the money for other things to keep our families up.”
The lady is quoted as saying, “When the trucks come, my children and I get here soon so we can be able to get something for ourselves.”
Asked what items she and her children collect, the lady said plastic water bottles, food, cooking utensils and dishes, among others.
Another able bodied young man standing by, joined the conversation saying; “The place is not packed today because since last night, no truck has dumped.”
According to another man who wants to be called Two Face, “most often when trucks are coming here, the dumpsite giants gather here first and collect whatever they want before others, including women and children, can get closer to join the forage.
“Buchanan City Cooperation (BCC) trucks bring the garbage with sometimes human waste and just dump them here with no regard to environmental laws. There are families whose lives are tied to this dumpsite and for that reason, they go looking for no job because they use proceeds from here to care for their families. I’m a motorcyclist and stop by at times to get something for myself,” Two Face said with simile.
Even though ArcelorMittal has promised a “brighter future for Liberians” through its motto: “Transforming Tomorrow,” yet many people come here fighting for food and other materials to survive, James Mayougo, a commuter between the township and Buchanan City told the Daily Observer.
However, the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf campaigned on the platform of reducing poverty by fighting corruption. Many political commentators blamed this tragic state of affairs on poor governance.
Though President Sirleaf introduced the famous “Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS)” years ago with the aim of alleviating poverty, a political scientist said; “There remains thousands of Liberians who at the moment are still living below US$1 a day, according to the United Nations.