LIBERIA: Thousands without access to water, WaterAid’s intervention salutary

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Massa Sumo, a 33-year-old resident of Yahyonyon Town in Todee District, Montserrado County, Liberia, fetched water from the town’s only creek for all her life until December 2020. The creek is the only source of water for the town’s more than 300 residents. Unfortunately, the creek has poor water quality due to contamination. As a result of that, Sumo and her three children have been experiencing health problems associated with consuming contaminated water. The creek is situated an approximately 25-minute walk from Sumo’s house, and until 2020, was the only accessible source of drinking water for the inhabitants. The residents said they were exposed to various waterborne diseases until WaterAid Liberia intervened. WaterAid constructed a modern water pump to enhance access to quality water sources and service.
“By the grace of God, since the pump came, my skin [is] clean,” said Sumo. “My children[‘s] running stomach condition [has] stop[ped].” Earlier, we experienced stomach pains and ringworms on our skins.”

The creek from which residents of Yahyonyon Town in Todee District, Montserrado County, have fetched water for drinking for decades. Photo: Aaron Salloe.

Sumo’s experience is an example of several other poor water quality conditions faced by many people across Liberia.
Only 75 percent of the 5.2 million people across the country have access to safe water, according to the 2020 UNICEF, WHO, and JMP(Joint Monitoring Programme) report. Experts said poor water quality put the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities at risk. The handpump in Yahyonyon Town is one of 60 waterpoints WaterAid Liberia constructed in Montserrado and Grand Cape Mount Counties. In most instances, before the construction of these water points, residents said they had to be up as early as 4:00 A.M. daily to fetch water from the creek because that’s when the water is clean. Women and children mainly bear the brunt of limited access to safe, accessible, and affordable drinking water—often trekking long and dangerous journeys, including through bushes for water.
“The way we used to suffer for water, we the women, to even bath, we[had] to go [a] distance,” said Garmeh Paye, 40, another resident and owner of a local food center in Yahyonyon Town. “We can just say we were living [at] the creek because every morning, every evening, we [were] there.”
For Joseph Sulonteh, the water pump has brought them relief.
“We[haven’t] notice[d] any problem since the pump[was] buil[t] by WaterAid,” said Sulonteh, 78, and a father of 15 children. “I tell them [WaterAid] thank you. I [don’t have] pay for them. Only God can pay them.” Sulonteh’s household enjoys the quality of the water, and he said that, “the nearby village come here to draw water if their pump spoil[s].”
“Diarrhea used to come, when you drink the water from the creek, your stomach start[s] running, but since the pump came, it cut off through this water,” said Sulonteh.

Joseph Sulonteh is an elder of Yahyonyon Town.

Chuchu Selma, WaterAid Liberia Country Director, said WaterAid launched its operations in Liberia in 2009 and has been deliberate in ensuring water is accessible for everyone, everywhere in Liberia. Todee is a priority district.

“In March 2023, we launched a new 5-year country program strategy,” said Mr. Selma. “We ambition by 2028 to have:
• 700,000 more people with sustainable, safe, and inclusive WASH, starting with universal coverage in Todee District, Montserrado County.
• Public health outcomes in Liberia improved through better integration of WASH in the national health system.
• At least $13 million more per year mobilised for WASH across the country.”
WaterAid Liberia said it is committed to providing a comprehensive Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), coverage in Liberia starting with Todee. “We will replicate the model elsewhere until everyone everywhere is reached with improved WASH,” said Mr. Selma.

The pledge came as WaterAid funded local campaigns for the legislature to allocate more direct budgetary support to Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). The importance of water was particularly highlighted in the March 22, 2024, theme of World Water Day observance— “Water for Peace”—which emphasizes the critical role of water in sustaining global peace. Here in Liberia, a series of activities took place, including a football and kickball tournament among 16 high schools in Monrovia and an essay competition among students of those schools. The activities were climaxed with an indoor celebration marked with awareness aimed at drawing the public’s interest or participation in WASH activities.

This year’s world water day celebrations happened days after Liberia President, Joseph Boakai issued Executive Order #109 to “exempt the Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation (LWSC), from paying customs duties on certain items, to ensure that clean and safe drinking water remain affordable and accessible to the public.”

“WaterAid sees this as a very laudable gesture. However, we look forward to the earliest review and update of current WASH policies,” said Mr. Selma. “Additionally, it would be good if the national budget incorporates specific allocations for WASH, and there is a better coordination and collaboration among key sector ministries and agencies. Institutional fragmentation has also caused functional overlap of WASH institutions.”

Mr. Chuchu Selma, WaterAid Liberia’s Country Director (blue t-shirt) dedicating a latrine in New Kru Town, Liberia, 2023.

The Liberia Government did promise that by 2023, it would aim “to have equitable, safe, affordable and sustainable water supply and sanitation services for all,” a promise that fell short of being achieved, with limited funding from government to WASH. Experts have warned that at its current pace, Liberia may not achieve its target of universal coverage of WASH as set out in Goal 6.1 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). The goal says, “By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.”

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