It used to be a pretty wide expanse of sandy beach on which local fishermen either repaired or hung their nets to dry. It laid within close proximity to what was then known as Kru Town from where fisherfolk, including fishmongers, commuted every morning to conduct business. Most of Monrovia’s fish supply at the time came from this area, once known in the Kru vernacular as ‘Pison Kloh’, meaning a sandy beach expanse. This was prior to World War II and prior to the construction of the Freeport of Monrovia with assistance from the United States from America.
The construction of a port in Monrovia, which lacked a natural harbor meant the construction of breakwaters to shelter the port from the hissing rage of the Atlantic surf. That also meant the excavation of thousands of tons of rock from the rocky Cape Mesurado for onward transport to the port area. It also meant the construction of a rail and bridge, the “Vai Town Bridge” to facilitate the transport of the excavated rocks to the port area.
It also meant the relocation of Kru Town to a new area northwest of Monrovia now called New Kru Town. Some stubborn residents of Kru Town, particularly fishermen, simply moved on to the sandy expanse (Pison Kloh) situated near the estuary of the Du River and the Atlantic Ocean from where they could more easily carry on their fishing activities while maintaining proximity to the Waterside market for sale of their daily catch.
Temporary structures began to spring up and, before long, Pison Kloh, now known as West Point, became a densely populated stretch of beach sand and home to thousands, aside from its transformation into a commercial hotspot for the sale of locally produced agricultural commodities, particularly fish. Many migrants to Monrovia during the period, between 1949 (when the Port was completed) and 1960, sought a home in West Point.
But over the years since the construction of the Freeport of Monrovia, sea erosion, caused largely by the effects of the breakwaters has been gradually gnawing away the coastline on the Monrovia peninsula with areas such as West Point, New Kru Town, the area around the JFK Hospital in Sinkor as well as surrounding areas. It is unclear whether any environmental impact assessment was done prior to the construction of the Port. However, the Ministry of Lands and Mines had probably — as far back as the early 1960s — acknowledged the problem, although it was not severe as it is now.
West Point has in the past suffered many disasters including fire and Ebola and survived. Its people, hailing from diverse ethnic backgrounds have managed to forge a peaceful coexistence despite their ethnic diversity. They are hardy, industrious, resilient and, the fact that most residents are still clinging on tenaciously, is indeed testamentary of the resilience of a people from communities living in conditions of abject poverty but yet filled with hopes for a better tomorrow as evidenced by the range of economic activities including fishing, trading, petty manufacturing, etc. West Point and the surrounding Waterside is the largest business center of central Monrovia.
But despite the sore eye it is, the plight of West Point has gone ignored by successive national leaderships. The late President Tolbert, realizing the problem, made some efforts to address acute housing needs by constructing some housing units, a public school, as well as a public latrine and bath house. In West Point, one can easily find all the indices of poverty, crime, unemployment, teen pregnancy, single mothers, single parent households, general lack of potable water, high illiteracy rates, a high disease burden and a host of other problems challenging their very existence. The Catholic Church runs an all-purpose clinic and an old folks home in West Point. It also has a Police station and Magisterial court and it plays host to a current population of about 80,000 persons. In fact, West Point has many churches and several mosques, serving the spiritual needs of a polyglot and multi-ethnic population.
But West Point today stands in acute danger of being wiped out by the sea. Large swathes of land where houses (mostly zinc shacks) and business centers once stood have now all become an open stretch of ocean. This is a danger that threatens the entire city of Monrovia and the GoL under the leadership of President George Weah has to awaken to this danger and take urgent measures to address same.
The Daily Observer notes that a similar coastal protection project, carried out in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, was abandoned uncompleted due to what sources said was the uncontrollable greed of government functionaries who, at the time of payment of every tranche of money to contractors, would converge on Buchanan like a swarm of bees to ‘eat’ their share. A similar situation is said to have been the case with the project in New Kru Town, which has also ground to a halt, allegedly due to donor displeasure with the stealing of project funds by officials.
West Point has indeed become a national emergency which must be addressed. It can be recalled that Mangroves, which once formed part of the catchment area, have all been destroyed, especially the mangroves that lined the shores of Vai Town side of the Mesurado River. Where mangroves once stood are now buildings constructed on reclaimed land. On close observation, it can be observed large that areas near the Vai Town bridge are being filled to create space for construction.
And it appears that the water channels between the Providence Island and both banks are gradually filling up with silt as the waters, once teeming with schools of fish and other marine life, have become very polluted while the mangroves are becoming clogged with waste especially plastic waste. Indeed, the future of West Point appears bleak especially in the face of rising sea levels occasioned by climate change. Yet all is not lost.
West Point must not be allowed to disappear beneath the waves!