The streets of Monrovia are full of child soldiers and military forces from Nigeria. Destruction and the scars of war are visible everywhere. 15 years of civil war in Liberia have just ended. More than 250,000 people died, those who survived are traumatised. Infrastructure is destroyed, the economy devastated.
Those are my memories from 2003, when I visited Liberia for the first time in order to prepare Welthungerhilfe’s entry. 13 years later, I am back in the West African country. I observe progress here and there, but also a lot of challenges.
Contests and trainings to improve hygiene practices
What I am witnessing in the evening gives me hope. I am attending the “Miss and Mr. Hygiene Contest” in Zwedru, a provincial capital in the southeast and one of the poorest region of the country. The Ebola crisis which had caused 4,809 deaths has changed the country. People are much more aware of the importance of good hygiene practices. Welthungerhilfe together with parent-teacher committees has organised this contest in the school health clubs. Five girls and five boys were selected in each county from 1,750 young contestants. During the evening they present themselves to the audience of around 250 citizens of Zwedru. They answer questions around hygiene, nutrition and the environment and explain in an enthusiastic speech how they want to use their knowledge in the future to further promote good hygiene practices in their community.
Support for local people to improve income, nutrition and infrastructure
This evening made me think about the youth in the rural areas. While Monrovia is growing tremendously, the countryside has become less and less attractive for young people. An expert from an EU delegation and I discuss the need to improve education facilities and employment possibilities for young people in rural areas. Welthungerhilfe and partners such as IBIS and Medica Mondiale have done great work in the past to contribute to the reconstruction of the country. However, Ebola has changed everything.
After economic growth rates of 8.7% in 2013 and 6% in 2014, the growth in 2015 was lower than 1%. Only recently, the international UN Peacekeeping Mission to Liberia officially transferred the security responsibility to Liberian authorities – another factor that affects the economy but also increases risks for the upcoming presidential elections in 2017. In this environment of uncertainty and economic drawbacks Welthungerhilfe works with the local people to improve income, nutrition and social infrastructure such as clinics, schools, roads and agriculture. With the support of our German private supporters and an important donor, the German Bank for Reconstruction KfW, a lot has changed for the better in recent years. More than 35 million Euro were invested in the remote southeast, with good results.
Hygiene is key to better health
But there is still a lot to do: During my stay in the county Grand Gedeh I talked to the chairlady of a farmers group. She points out the advantages of a healthy diet, the need for children to get fresh food with vitamins and that she still needs to convince other people in the community. One of the limiting factors to more and better farming is the availability of good seeds in the region, the access to markets due to bad roads and missing market facilities. The latter has been addressed just recently with the construction of more market halls in small towns, so that farmers can market their produce in a place which provides access, shelter, water, toilets, etc.
Ebola made people aware that hygiene is key to better health and to the prevention of deadly diseases. Communities are trained on good hygiene practices such as using toilets instead of open defecation for example. Community members build hand washing facilities, showers and toilets themselves – we only offer advice and training. This ensures maximum sustainability of the installations.
Snails as an alternative to contaminated bush meat
But not only sanitation can be improved to prevent diseases – nutrition is an important factor too. As a source of protein, a lot of people eat bush meat: monkeys, bush rats or bats. These animals can carry many diseases such as Ebola. Therefore people are strongly advised to no longer consume bush meat. Our team in the southeast is experimenting with snails as an alternative. These snails are reproducing and growing in a garden where they find fresh food. After a couple of months they can reach one kilogram in weight and can be sold on the market. The project is still in the pilot phase but the first results are promising. It could provide additional income for the farmers and could prevent transmission of deadly diseases. It is an example that income generation with agriculture can work, that partners such as Welthungerhilfe can assist farmers to try out new techniques and help them to reduce risks – while standing on their own feet. Liberia is certainly a country with many challenges but times of war are over; I am glad that we are now discussing economic and social development issues and how we can improve our contribution to the development of this country.
Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. The severe Ebola epidemic had terrible consequences and thousands died. The fields could not be tended. Markets had to close. Food became prohibitively expensive. Now the country must once again gradually return to normality.
New hospitals in Liberia
Duration: 2005 - 2017
Regions: Grand Gedeh and River Gee
Target groups: 260,000 persons benefit from the project, above all women, young people and refugees from Côte d'Ivoire
In cooperation with: Welthungerhilfe partner organisations IBIS and medica mondiale e.V.
With support from:
KfW - Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau
Responsible body: Liberian Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs (MPEA)