But key sectoral agency, MPW, stands by Last Well
By David A. Yates and Simeon S. Wiakanty
Authorities at the National Water Sanitation and Hygiene Commission (NWASHC) has described as “counterproductive” claims by The Last Well recently that it has provided universal access to water for nearly 2.1 million Liberians.
Last Well, a nonprofit organization based in Rockwall, Texas, United States, began operations in Liberia 2009 and claimed in its recent report that since it began operation, it has provided safe drinking water and for more than 2.1 million Liberians in five counties.
At a press conference in Monrovia recently, NWASHC Director, Bobby Whitfield, stated that the commission has unearthed multiple “discrepancies” concerning the purported claims by the NGO, pointing out that in February 2019, the commission launched an investigation into Last Well’s claims, based upon multiple complaints from local and international stakeholders over its “false declaration” posted on its website.
Whitfield disclosed, “The investigation shows that out of 42 wells claimed to have been dug by The Last Well in Grand Gedeh and 56 others rehabilitated, not a single well was seen by the team and the team also observed that over 50% of The Last Well’s local contractors or implementing agencies are not in legal standing with the government and have not obtained sectorial clearances from the relevant government agencies.”
In its report, the last well alleged, “over the past 10 years, the Last Well has faced the water crisis in Liberia head-on, reaching over 2 million Liberians with water and the Gospel to over 8,000 safe-drinking water projects and that there are less than 1 million Liberians left to reach in 4,000 communities by 2020”.
All of these claims, Whitfield said, are far from reality and do not mean well for the common good of the ordinary Liberian.
The Last Well’s Vice President for International Affairs and Strategic Partnerships, Abdul Hafiz Koroma, has termed statements by NWASHC as “libelous.”
NWASHC said its team established that the last well violated the National integrated Water Resource Management Policy of 2009, section 5.5 on page 17, Exhibit Number 10, which is also consistent with the sector’s handbook of 2018 edition on water supply, sanitation, and hygiene promotion maximum number of persons per water source, Exhibit 11.
He said both standards’ maximum persons per tap, based on a flow of 7.5 litres/minute, requires 250 people; based on the flow of 17 litres/minute requires 500 people per hand pump; and based on the flow of 12.5 litres/minutes require 400 people per single-use open well.
In his report, Whitfield said that the commission also observed that due to the large population size to a water point and other factors, most of the wells dug by The Last Well were not functioning properly, thus leaving the communities with no alternative but to revert to their unsafe sources, like the case of barber town in Tchien District, Grand Gedeh county. In this town, out of 11 wells dug by different organizations including The Last Well, none are functional as of the date of our verification, March 1, 2019.
In reaction to the NWASHC’s reports, The Last Well Vice President for International Affairs, Abdul Hafiz Kroma, said that they have contributed over US$30 million to the provision of safe drinking water — stating averagely; it has been US$3 million a year and that the Last Well in collaboration with its partners in the field including Living Water International, Water of Life, Equip Liberia, among others had implemented several hand door well projects as well as rehabilitated so many and installed pretty close to 30,000 water filters across the country.
He said that many feel that the idea of bringing safe drinking water to Liberia cannot be achieved and want the crisis of lack of safe drinking water to perpetuate forever, “but we believe that it can be achieved when we all work together to raise the necessary money; together we can end this crisis.”
“As we have said and will continue to say, The Last Well exists to provide access to clean and safe drinking water for most of the vulnerable communities as well as serve the Christian message to every community we serve, and that by December 2020, the aims and objective are to serve every city in the country,” said Mr. Koroma.
He said Whitfield’s claim was also misleading, has no facts and that there appears to be experiencing a breakdown in cordiality across the WASH sector; “What has happened to the WASH sector? Why this show of poor leadership manifested at a time when the nation is facing political and economic challenges?” he asked.
Notwithstanding, the Deputy Minister for Rural Development and Communities Service at the Ministry of Public Works (MPW), Benjamin G. Banto Jr., said the press conference held by Whitfield was meant to undermine gains made by MPW over the years.
The Deputy Minister indicated that the Ministry for the past ten years has worked with over 75 partners year-in and year-out, and has managed the government’s relationship with those partners, thereby paving the way for funding to flow within the sector even as government never prioritized funding for the sector.
He also noted: “The only authority that can be held responsible when no drinking water is found in our communities is the government! No NGO will be held liable for not providing hand pumps or toilet facilities to our vulnerable and poor communities”.
He added that if the government has a problem with the way donors intend to work, they must firstly respect themselves by deciding on the best rules of engagement, instead of reducing their partners’ interest to Facebook posts and poorly organized press conferences which he said will do them no good, while at the same time reasserts government’s support and commitment to the Last Well and lauded them for their intervention and support to the government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity (PAPD).