That Monrovia is faced with potential ecological disaster from flooding is an understatement. Every year during the rainy season, thousands of residents in low lying areas of the city are often rendered homeless due to flooding.
Aside from the fact that Monrovia lies below sea level, the city is almost completely surrounded by water. Most outlying areas to the north and east of the city constitute areas that for the most part lie in the flood plains of the St. Paul River.
Every year during the rainy season, the St. Paul River inundates its banks, flooding the settlements of Caldwell, Louisiana, Gardinersville, Barnersville, Johnsonville, Virginia, Stockton Creek, and Central Monrovia including Newport Street, Randall Street, Soniwhein, the entire Bushrod Island, Dorleh-la and St. Paul Bridge communities. Thousands of residents are often rendered homeless during the heavy rains.
This is not to mention rising sea levels and storm surges which have on many occasions swept away many West Point homes into the Atlantic Ocean and leaving so many dispossessed and displaced.
As mentioned earlier, Monrovia is nearly surrounded by water – bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, west and south; and to the north and north east by the Mesurado Wetlands, located 06°18’N 010°45’W in the city of Monrovia.
It is a complex ecosystem (6,700 hectares) comprising of at least three species of mangroves (Rhizophora harrisonii, R. mangle and Avicennia africana). However, they are, according to conservationists, threatened by intense charcoal burning and fuel wood collection.
The Mesurado Wetlands, according to reports, also boasts a variety of wildlife that includes three species of crocodiles, fish and migrating birds and primates, most of which have now disappeared due to human activity.
According to conservationists, the Mesurado Wetlands was declared a Ramsar site for the following reasons:
1. The protection of three mangrove species (Rhizophora harrisonii, R. mangle and Avicennia africana), which are threatened by intense charcoal burning and fuel wood collection.
2. It provides a favorable habitat and feeding ground for several species of birds including the African spoonbill Platalea alba, Common Pratincole Glareola nuchaltis and Curlew Numenius arquata.
3) It hosts the vulnerable African dwarf crocodile, the Nile crocodile and the African sharp-nosed crocodile,
4) It plays an important role in shoreline stabilization and sediment trapping.
Additionally, it serves as a principal source of drainage and protection from flooding and, experts say, without this areas such as Klah Town, Vai Town, Slipway, Lakpasee and nearby communities will face greater dangers of flooding.
In recognition of the international significance of the Mesurado Wetlands to conservation of nature, it was recognized and designated as a Ramsar site. On November 2, 2003, Liberia became a signatory to the Ramsar Convention.
As a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, Liberia is committed to protect and sustainably manage wetlands, particularly those designated as Ramsar sites. In Liberia, several sites have been designated for protection under the Ramsar Convention.
They include the Marshall Wetlands in Margibi County, Mesurado in Montserrado County, Gbedin in Nimba County, Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount County and Kpatawee in Bong County.
Under the Act creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the body is charged with the responsibility to manage and protect the environment – marine and terrestrial – as well as facilitating several restoration projects in partnerships with civil society groups and relevant government agencies.
Further to this, and in accordance with Sections 74 & 75 of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia, the EPA may publish notice; prescribe general or specific guidelines or standards for the management of rivers, lakes, wetlands and parts of the marine and coastal environments of significance.
More to the Mesurado Wetlands, environmentalists say they virtually constitute the lungs of Monrovia. It has immense potential which can be tapped for the benefit of communities living within those areas as well as for the country on a whole.
However, threats to its existence abound, according to conservationists. Pollution especially plastic, industrial and human waste are said to be on the increase, although the extent to which this problem exists has not been fully assessed at least, according to publicly available information.
Reports also say activities such as dynamite fishing, wood harvesting and the killing of endangered wildlife are recognized as problems but again, the extent to which such problems exist remains unknown.
Activities such as dynamite fishing, wood harvesting and the killing of endangered wildlife are recognized as problems but again, the extent to which such problems exist remains unknown.
As noted earlier, the Mesurado/Wetlands in addition to serving as a natural protection against floods, is also acclaimed to have immense tourist potential, which has not been tapped.
Moreover, authorities should not lose sight of the fact that thousands of people living within catchment areas of the Mesurado Wetlands depend on the resources it provides for daily sustenance.
In this regard, conservation efforts by the EPA should include the involvement of all stakeholders with the idea to develop a plan for sustainable management of the Wetlands that all stakeholders will be encouraged to buy into.
This should be complemented by vigorous prosecutorial action against those individuals illegally constructing and erecting structures within the wetlands.
Residents from the area around the Police Academy junction on the SKD Boulevard, where car washers ply their trade, have told the Daily Observer that spotting of crocodiles was a common occurrence but is becoming increasingly rare.
Quite clearly, the Mesurado Wetlands are threatened by human activity and, if serious and concerted action is not taken urgently, we could be priming ourselves for ecological disaster.
This is why we believe that the action taken by the EPA to institute legal action against those illegally draining the land and erecting structures on it. The line has to be drawn somewhere, or else, we succeed in becoming our own worst enemies and needlessly so.
However, we remain cautiously optimistic realizing that such action could get waylaid by vested interests. After all said and done, this is Liberia – anything can happen and “happen for free”. Bon courage EPA!