The recent mudslide that killed over 400 people in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is a lesson to Liberians. Primarily, we should begin to ponder what mechanisms we can devise to prevent a similar incident from occurring here. Although landslides are not strange to Liberians, since we vividly recall the 1982 Noway Camp landslide in Grand Cape Mount County that killed many people, the time is now that the Liberian Government and the rest of us become sensitive to the dangers of environmental abuse. The government in particular should start strictly enforcing laws governing the environment.
There is a health philosophy that says “Prevention is better than cure.” This philosophy, when followed, prepares people to prevent themselves from the harm of diseases or circumstances in order to keep them safe and healthy. Failure to take preventive measures will lead to contracting preventable diseases, which consequently leads to spending more money to cure. Worse yet, it may lead even to death. Was this not what happened since the infancy of this administration, when this newspaper, the Daily Observer, frequently published stories, accompanied by photos of huge, horrendous dumpsites at our leading food markets in Douala and Paynesville Red Light, while the Ministry of Health failed to engage its Environmental Division to deal with this terrible malaise? We all know the result: Ebola!
Now the recent incident in Sierra Leone has led the chairperson of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA), Angelique Weeks, to issue a timely warning to Liberia to take action now that will prevent a similar environmental catastrophe in our country. Ms. Weeks, who described the mudslide in the neighboring country as “a tragedy mankind called upon itself,” told graduates at the 18th Convocation of the Stella Maris Polytechnic that Liberia should expect to encounter a Sierra Leone-styled situation if Liberians do not stop environmental abuse. Uncontrollable and totally irresponsible littering, building in drainages, wetlands and near the seashore, and the persistent cutting down of our trees for charcoal—trees that prevent storms—are all activities Ms. Weeks referenced as human activities that could lead to environmental horror.
LTA chairman Weeks is not the only person concerned about our environment. Liberian Geologist Dr. Eugene Shannon also warned that people living near steep hills like those in Jallah Town, Slipway, Wein Town and Mount Barclay risk similar disaster if they do not move to a safer zone. According to Dr. Shannon, what happened in Sierra Leone was a result of human activities on a soil that is not vegetated, but exposed to sunshine and rainfall throughout the year. He said this red soil absorbs rainwater in the rainy season, and over time accumulates into mud, which eventually, especially due to heavy downpour, caused the disaster in Sierra Leone. Planting trees on hills and around Monrovia will help to prevent mudslides and storms, Dr. Shannon further said.
Apart from what happened in Sierra Leone and Liberia’s own 1982 disaster, there are unfolding instances here that should warn us of dangerous environmental consequences arising from human activities. As a result of dumping water plastics and other non-biodegradable materials into drainages and building on wetlands, residents of Monrovia encounter floods almost every year. It may be recalled that in 2014 and 2015 over one thousand people were made homeless in Monrovia as a result of floods. In 2011 hundreds of Sinkor residents, especially those in slum communities along the Atlantic beach beginning from 19th Street through 24th Street, were made homeless by sea erosion. In these areas, residents are also engaged in sand mining, which accordingly contributes to the action of the sea. Amid these unconscionable (horrify, outrageous) practices, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) complacently watches people abusing the environment without public education and law enforcement.
When will the laws on our books be strictly enforced, superseding sympathy to protect the country and people’s safety from themselves? See the approach the Kenyan government has taken against plastic bags. The Ministry of Environment has begun enforcing the policy banning the use of plastic bags in the country because of their negative impact on the environment. Kenya, like South Africa, Eritrea and Rwanda, has realized that plastic bags were depleting the soil and causing poor health and death for animals. The government, therefore, says anyone who goes against this law will pay not less than $38,000, or spend four years in jail.
We join Ms. Angelique Weeks and Dr. Eugene Shannon in calling on the Liberian people to take seriously the protection of our environment. We further call on the government to take the necessary steps to control vigorously and decisively environmental abuse, in order to prevent future disaster. The people must be forced to realize that it is in their own interest to help protect the environment, instead of flagrantly and shortsightedly abusing it to their own detriment, and eventual death.