A Challenge for LEC, NHA to Save Zinc Shack Dwellers

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There were thankfully not hundreds of people affected; only three families with school going children. Yet the fire in New Kru Town last Wednesday was a wakeup call to two of the nation’s most important Agencies, the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) and the National Housing Authority (NHA).

How are they involved and what should they do?

The LEC and NHA are involved because of—you guessed it!—two important things that govern citizens’ livelihoods: electric power and housing.

Why LEC? Because the fire that left the three families destitute and homeless was caused by an unattended coal pot. Had they electric or solar power to cook their food or boil their water, there is a good chance that the fire may not have happened.

Why the Housing Authority? Because NHA should be and is responsible to find solutions to the nation’s housing problems. After 169 years of independence, is it not time that our people should have long since shed their zinc shacks and be dwelling in modern housing—housing with indoor kitchens, bathrooms and toilets? Yes it is! It is NHA’s responsibility to find solutions to this perennial housing crisis by building concrete dwellings for our people, with the basic modern facilities, electrified or solar-powered.

People will immediately raise the fitting question, where will the money come from to do all this? But is that not what governments are for—to find solutions to the people’s problems, especially when the problems pose a threat to life and property?

They say ‘wherever there is a will, there is a way.’ We challenge LEC and NHA to come forward with solutions to this twin problem: electricity and proper housing for the Liberian people.

Is it not about time that we end this thatched hut and zinc shack syndrome in our country and modernize Liberia?

Yes, President William R. Tolbert Jr. started the modern housing concept in the early 1970s, nearly a half century ago, by building several housing estates—concrete structures with indoor kitchens, bathrooms and toilet facilities.

NHA should now have enough experience to come forward with more housing solutions for our people. The Housing Authority has two primary areas to begin this—New Kru Town and West Point. How NHA handles these two dwelling challenges will determine how prepared it is to go national and permanently remove zinc shacks and thatched huts from Liberia’s housing landscape.

We understand that the people of Nimba County are already well on their way to ending thatched hut dwellings in their county. This is a great beginning and we pray that all other counties will develop the vision, passion and capacity to follow suit.

How can this happen? Our people in Nimba and all other counties should develop their own capacity to do this. How? By first engaging seriously in agriculture—producing rice, meat, poultry and eggs, coffee and cocoa, that will put money in their pockets and empower them to develop their modern housing and other amenities. The county peoples should open grocery stores, even supermarkets and shopping malls, for it is in commerce that the money is made. We hope that the Ministries of Finance and Commerce, backed by the Central Bank of Liberia, will act quickly and train and empower our people in entrepreneurial capacity to help them accomplish these noble and hopeful objectives—getting into commerce to improve their circumstances.

Let Finance, Commerce and CBL move one step further in what former CBL Executive Governor J. Mills Jones started—empowering small business holders to lift them out of poverty. The abovementioned institutions should train and develop quickly a cadre of entrepreneurs, not only to lift them out of poverty, but to also empower them in bigger businesses and improve the business climate in the counties. Let them show the way where their Monrovia counterparts have failed.

We further urge NHA to provide modern housing plans and designs that will help rural dwellers to think ahead and know what is possible. This means NHA should scout (travel through) all the counties to determine what housing designs are appropriate for each, as well as to initiate modern housing complexes and estates.

Take for example Mount Barclay on the Kakata Highway. Here is an ideal area for a modern housing complex. Yet it seems nobody is even thinking of this. All we see is every Tom, Dick and Harry setting up small, small plots and building small, medium and large houses, scattered indiscriminately about this beautiful landscape. Can government immediately intervene and for once plan this area and reserve it for modern housing?

If this is not done, a precious opportunity would be missed to develop a fine, modern estate in this pristine (virgin, unspoiled) area. A missed opportunity that comes to mind is ‘540’ in Congotown which has been settled indiscriminately by squatters who did not benefit from any zoning or planning intervention by government. ‘540’ is now a haphazard community next to impossible to fix into a well laid out residential area.

How long shall we continue to miss such glorious opportunities to improve our housing landscape?

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