What Is the Long-term Solution to Monrovia’s Sanitation Crisis?

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Ever since the beginning of the Tubman administration Monrovia, the capital of Africa’s oldest independent republic, has exhibited serious sanitation problems.  Tubman created the National Public Health Service (NPHS) in the mid-1940s, giving it also responsibility for sanitation.

During that period there were dumpsites and drains in many places around the city, especially on Randall, Benson, Gurley, Center and Clay Streets.  These drains have been perpetually used also as garbage dumps, totally negating their intended   purpose.  It is impossible for a trench to channel excess water freely when it is clogged with garbage.

That is why Monrovia, from Newport to Center Street, has always been the obnoxious location of filth and stench from these overflowing gutters spilling on to those streets, especially during the Rainy Season.  Other areas which are prone to this garbage induced flooding include Waterside, Vai Town, and Old Road Junction near the President’s residence.  All of this is in addition to heaps of garbage at dumpsites that the city authorities struggle with limited success to manage.

It is not only garbage, but residents building in the way of drains as well as the failure of public works and other authorities to stop or dismantle these structures and to regularly free the gutters of sand from erosion in order to prevent the serious flooding that occurs during the rains.

Public Health, now Ministry of Health, from the 1940s through the 1960s constantly had sanitary officers going around spraying the city with DDT to prevent the breeding of malaria infesting mosquitoes and other disease carrying flies, rats, roaches and other harmful insects and rodents.

There are several government agencies that have over the decades cooperated to deal with the city’s sanitation problems—Public Health, Public Works, Monrovia City Corporation and Water and Sewer, which later became the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation. 

Last week three of these agencies named got together with the assistance of the British NGO, Oxfam, to tackle the age-old problem of   offensive drains.  Our reporter Leroy Sonpon named the other two agencies as Public Works and LWSC.  We do not understand why the Ministry of Health was not involved in this critical exercise.  After all, they say prevention is better than cure.  Everyone knows that it is these offensive drains and perennially unmanaged garbage and sewer mess that have combined to make Monrovia one of the most unhealthy places to live. 

To make matters worse, we stilI see irresponsible and uncaring Liberians throwing trash from their cars, dropping rubbish on the streets and dumping garbage anywhere.  So the problem lies not just with government, but with us the people.  Is there any wonder, then, that Ebola spread so fast in our country, overtaking with infections and deaths the Republic of Guinea where it started, and Sierra Leone?  

It is indeed hard to understand why, after all these decades, we have not fixed our health and sanitation problems.  Is it  that we lack the technical or political capacity to fix this problem that has for decades bedeviled us? 

So many Liberians have lived in London, New York, South Africa and other cities with populations far bigger than the whole of Liberia.  So these cities’ health and sanitation problems, because of their huge populations and the abundance of food, are far bigger than Liberia’s.  So what is the problem?  Why can’t we get our act together?

Now we have turned to Oxfam—a mere NGO—to help us.  We have forgotten that even the World Bank and the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation have intervened to help fix sanitation in Monrovia, but to what avail? 

Even though things have improved a bit, Monrovia is still plagued with filth and squalor even in the city center, and worse yet in the slums, including Buzzy Quarter, right under the nose of the center of power—the Legislature, Executive Mansion and Temple of Justice.  There is also West Point—right below the Ducor, our first five-star hotel— Water Side, Duala, Sinkor Old Road, the housing estates and, of course, Paynesville Red Light, the nation’s largest food and general marketplace.   This newspaper has for over a decade written frequently about the filth and squalor in which our market women, children and men have to work from five a.m. to 10 p.m. daily to earn their living by supplying food to Monrovia.

We understand that this market will soon be relocated to the former Omega site.    What plans, if any, are being made to ensure that this sickening, sour, stinking scenario does not transfer to the new site?   

The only suggestion we can offer at this time is to send a team of intelligent, conscientious and serious-minded Liberians to a few African cities, beginning with Kigali, Rwanda and Kampala, Uganda, to study how they manage water, sewer and sanitation.  Maybe our observers will return with workable ideas to fix our problems.  It will then be left to the politicians to provide the resources and the political will finally to get the job done once and for all. 

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