Balli Island A Bad ‘Dream’ For President Weah, Liberia

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ADVISERS HAVE ONCE again steered President George Manneh Weah the wrong way.

Site for India-Funded Conference Center Declared a Wetland by Ramsar Convention; ‘Nothing Should be Inhabited There’ 

THE PRESIDENT ON MONDAY, toured Balli Island, situated in the middle of the Mesurado River after which he spoke of his intentions of transforming the Island into the New Monrovia commencing with the construction of a state-of-the-art International Conference Center and other standardized structures, funded by the Government of India, which will include a 4000-seated Conference Hall to be named after the late Indian Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi.

SYCOPHANTS AND ADVISERS appear to have been too busy hailing the plan or perhaps just lazy to do simple due diligence and steer the President the right way. 

AFTER ALL, it was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which led the charge in 2003 when Liberia became a member of the Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. 

THE COUNTRY HAS BEEN a member since it first deposited its instrument of accession with the Director General of UNESCO in January 2002, with the designation of the first Ramsar site, Lake Piso.

THE AREA SELECTED as the future of the “New Monrovia, is one of five areas in Liberia under the Ramsar Convention that the government of Liberia is receiving funding for to Protect. All Liberia has to do is to ensure that the area is never inhabited. 

THE CONVENTION STILL lists Liberia as member meaning Liberia’s 2003 decision to form a part of the body has not been reversed. 

IN ADDITION TO Balli, four other areas are being earmarked as forbidden. They include: The Gbedin Wetlands in Nimba, the Kpatawee Wetlands in Bong County which hosts the Kpatawee waterfalls, the Marshall Wetlands in Margibi County and the Mesurado Wetlands the future “New City” of Monrovia. 

THE AREA, ACCORDING to the convention provides a favourable habitat and feeding ground for several species of birds including the African spoonbill Platalea alba, Common Pratincole Glareola nuchaltis and Curlew Numenius arquata. “It also hosts the vulnerable African dwarf crocodile, the Nile crocodile and the African sharp-nosed crocodile and plays an important role in shoreline stabilization and sediment trapping. The site is currently used for fuel wood collection, as a dumping site, for car washing, and fishing, with fish and crustaceans sold to the population of Monrovia. An additional threat comes from unregulated fishing, as well as from pollution from the industries around the site, including an oil refinery and paint factories. No management plan currently exists, but there are plans to put it under a protected area management network once it has been successfully designated as a Ramsar site.” 

THE DECISION by the President’s advisers to take him and his wife to an area on the fringes of a danger zone is scary and speaks volumes about those tasked with ensuring that the President and his family are safe and areas selected for major projects meet the criteria of international standards and safety. 

WHILE PRESIDENT WEAH has publicly professed his love for the area and expressed his vision to see it transformed into a modern city, the fact of the matter is, the administration simply needs to rethink its plans and find another site to build its conference center. 

IT IS REALLY unfair for donor nations to send us the hard-earned money of their taxpayers’ money only for us to make haste and bad decisions that could cost problems in the future. 

CONVENTIONS LIKE RAMSAR have been arguing for years that the conversion of wetlands for commercial development, drainage schemes, overfishing and tourism are major threats to wetlands everywhere.

LIKE ALL LIBERIANS, we share President Weah’s vision for a modern conference center and the Government of India’s willingness to fund it. But it has to be done in the right way to avoid an environmental future. 

THE PRESIDENT says he has always marvelled the Balli Island area and often wondered: “I did not know anyone who knew what was going on there. There was no road, no bridge, or ferry to get over here.”

WELL, NOW WE KNOW. The Balli Island, the area adjacent Providence Island designated the President’s “new city” has been declared a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, meaning, the area is simply bad for the project under the terms of the Ramsar Convention. Thus, the President’s office must now begin to rethink its plan and find another area to undertake its project. 

THE PRESIDENT AND HIS ADVISORS must end the practice and new tradition of “We” against the Rest of Liberia and realize that the CDC-led government is a government for Liberians. The fact that it is in power now, does not mean it is in power for itself and its supports or those showering praises on the President. 

IT IS NECESSARY for the Environmental Protection Agency to get involved, it is important for all the various stakeholders to get involved and offer a word of caution and advice to the Weah-led government. 

WE MUST NOT ALLOW the mistakes of today to be our nightmare tomorrow.

the world watched in horror when Liberia’s next-door neighbors, Sierra Leone experienced a massive mudslide that killed nearly 1000 people. The numbers could have been far less had the people and the government had heeded the writings on the wall from research papers and civil society organizations, cautioning against building in unstable areas, that the city was staring at serious threat from deforestation on the peninsula. 

SIMILARLY, IN LIBERIA, many are standing by and singing praises while wrong decisions are being made again. When will we stop? When will we learn? Perhaps when the entire nation sit idly by doing nothing while waiting for President Weah’s dream to turn into a nightmare or a tragedy for an unborn generation.

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