“I lived in Sasstown from 1975 to 1979; I never had the opportunity to live in a decent house. Today, in this 21st Century, I see that my parents, the people and my friends are still living the hut life. Now, we are in a modern era; it is time to change that.
“It hurts me a lot to see my people in this 21st century still living in mud houses and for this reason, I’m going to do everything humanly possible to change that situation — which is part of the promise I made to them.”
Those were the words of President George Weah when he, on Wednesday, June 20, launched an US$8 million housing project intended to provide modern housing units for rural dwellers. The US$8 million dollar project will be financed by the Liberian and Japanese Governments.
The Daily Observer commends President Weah for launching this laudable initiative which will have lasting and meaningful impact on the lives of poor rural dwellers. Housing, especially durable housing, is a critical unmet need for both rural and urban dwellers.
According to the National Housing Authority, Liberia needs to construct 512,000 new dwellings to address the country’s housing needs by the year 2030. Further, according to the Housing Authority, this critical need for housing is more manifest in Monrovia than elsewhere.
Monrovia, a city built to accommodate not more than 80,000 persons is now bursting at the seams with a population of over 1 million persons. At least 70 percent of Monrovia’s population of 1.1 million people live in slums under very demeaning conditions.
They include poorly constructed housing, lack of basic social services, decrepit infrastructure, lack of adequate supply of pipe borne drinking water, lack of adequate access to electricity, very poor water and sanitation facilities and severe overcrowding.
These statistics highlight a reality which has been our lot as a nation for years. As one drives through the countryside the scenes of mud and thatched huts lining the roadsides are so hauntingly familiar to scenes one beheld driving through the country side more than half a century ago.
In short, nothing has changed. It is such a situation that President Weah is now attempting to address when he remarked, “It hurts me a lot to see my people in this 21st century still living in mud houses and for this reason, I’m going to do everything humanly possible to change that situation — which is part of the promise I made to them.”
But as history recalls, the late President Tolbert shared a similar dream to provide improved and affordable housing for urban dwellers. The construction of the Matadi, Amilcar Cabral, Stephen Tolbert and the E. Jonathan Goodridge housing estates were all his handiwork.
Beyond that he (President Tolbert) established the National Housing and Savings Bank from which loans could be obtained at low interest to construct individual homes. Today the Housing Bank is dead with no signs of revival in sight.
Now that President Weah has launched this new initiative, consideration should be given to the revival of the Housing and Savings Bank in order to help enhance the sustainability of such a worthwhile venture.
The 2016 Liberia Demographic and Health survey report provides a healthy insight into the realities that the housing program should seek to address. According to the 2013 Liberia Demographic Health Survey Report, only 3 percent of households in rural Liberia have had access to electricity since 2007 and overall, only 10 percent of total households have electricity that is connected to the national grid.
Further, 47 percent of households have floors made up of mud, sand, or earth. It is acknowledged that the type of flooring used determines the household’s vulnerability to disease causing agents.
Additionally, the number of rooms used for sleeping determines the level of overcrowding as overcrowding increases the risks of contracting disease. Overall, 40 percent which is nearly half of the country’s population use one room for sleeping which is a clear indication of the critical need for housing.
Thus, as can be seen, President Weah is attempting to address a very tall order. As the National Housing Authority points out, since 1960 the Government of Liberia has initiated several housing programs under which only 1,974 housing units have been built to date. This is just a tiny fraction of the estimated 512,000 new dwellings required to pressing national housing needs.
This newspaper cannot help but underscore the need to undercut construction costs by using local materials. It is proven for example that stabilized soil (laterite) bricks mixed with a little amount of cement and sand can be used to build durable and long lasting homes. The Don Bosco Polytechnic located on 8th Street, for instance, has over the years produced bricks and roofing tiles all made from local materials which clearly demonstrates their viability for use in construction.
This newspaper stands convinced that should such an approach be adopted, making the most use of local materials to construct housing for both rural and urban poor, President Weah’s dream to bring his people into the 21st century by providing them modern and decent housing facilities can be significantly enhanced.
As a Chinese proverb says, a thousand mile journey begins with the first step; the construction of 512,000 housing units can be likened to an attempt at a thousand-mile journey taking one step at a time.
President Weah, by the launch of the housing project, has planted his feet firmly and forward on the path towards the completion of that thousand-mile journey.
We at the Daily Observer can only wish him well and pray that he succeeds in this worthwhile undertaking in the interest of the Liberian people.
Keep pressing on, Mr. President, and waver not at your peril and that of the nation.