“Pro-poor governance,” as asserted by H.E. President George Weah, could better be described as a buzz phrase that brings much excitement not only to the marginalized population and communities in Liberia, but it also certainly does provide hope for many in the environmental and disaster management advocacy communities. It further demonstrates a major paradigm shift of what has been a national neglect of critical social issues by past administrations. Such a national neglect has affected vast segments of Liberians whose livelihoods have been impacted for decades. Poor environmental and unmitigated disaster conditions are recipes for poor health and deter potential self-driven human growth.
Accordingly, this paper addresses two critical issues: the environment and disaster management because they are inextricably linked to social issues in the country. Poor environmental conditions can lead to hazardous problems, which can lead to disaster. Disastrous events, too, can lead to poor environmental conditions.
There have been environmental and disaster management advocacy groups in Liberia lamenting the continued peril of the human environment and disaster unmitigated communities whose residents are being impacted, but receiving very little attention from the national government. With this buzz phrase, “pro-poor governance,” it is worth repeating that the critical issues of the environment, weak disaster management protocols, and the susceptible living conditions of the ordinary people still remain major threats, and cannot be ignored. They must form an integral part of programs of human development that drive positive social change for residents to realize their full potential. There is no way to get around it. Those critical issues must be part of the formation and implementation of any development programs for numerous communities and the nation.
Poor environmental conditions and eventful disaster onslaughts, such as floods and other hazardous conditions, have denied most residents the needed opportunities to thrive and excel; hence, they cannot adequately contribute to the much-needed national economic growth and social integration. “Pro-poor governance” comes with commitment and honest responsibility driven by passion and solidarity for the disadvantaged population of Liberia. It means ensuring an enabling environment for opportunities, and should not be just another empty phrase as has been the case for previous political leaders.
A clean human environment produces healthy human capital, enhances social integrity, and builds, as well as, sustains stronger economic growth and political stability. In the absence of such critical social balance to the human environment and disaster management, the long term consequences rest on government’s shoulders in handling the associated costs, which outweigh the cost of being proactive.
The current state of Liberia’s environment and disaster management initiatives are of grave concern by any measure. It has been trivialized for the most part in previous political administrations of Liberia. While it is true that all parts of Liberia have some environmental problems that warrant every attention, Monrovia, particularly, and its immediate environs are infested with pronounced health-threatening environmental challenges, covering piles of garbage, corrosive metals, oil/chemical spills, erosion and other pollutants and debris. These hazards threaten the quality of waterways and air quality from industrial contaminants The rampant use of generators both in industries and domestic vicinities as source of the energy are just few examples. The burning of tires and other filths are often seen around Monrovia. All of these have direct impact on the human respiratory system, not to mention the soil from which foods are grown.
An eco-balanced environment produces healthy, productive and a sustainable human resource capacity that is so germane to economic development and growth. No nation succeeds in its development goals, and the ability of sustaining those goals without the aforementioned eco-balanced initiatives. Neglecting or doing very little invites potential danger for the communities/country since the growth and sustenance of a country’s economy depends on the potency of its human capital.
The same goes for disaster management, which is an emerging threat that could impact “Pro poor governance.” Disaster management has not been given much attention. Of particular concern is the ongoing unmitigated flooding in most impoverished communities due to many factors such as clogged drainage systems partly from garbage and other debris that are illegally dumped, lack of proper zonal ordinances and the lack of an effective building permitting system. No doubt, climate change has also had its impact because it has invariably altered and increased rain frequency and intensity in Liberia. Yet, national government has the responsibility to respond, working with other stakeholders and the international community.
For the past 15 years, floods have occurred in many communities particularly in Monrovia and its surroundings with major flooding and destructions in poor communities causing displacement and loss of property to families and businesses. During floods, major businesses, such as the Freeport of Liberia, which is the economic artery of Liberia, is interrupted, causing the government of Liberia to lose many thousands, if not millions, of dollars; so are many other businesses that pay taxes to the national treasury. In the absence of innovation, community capacity building, and the lack of functional institutions to deal with such crises, the danger is imminent and could undermine the successful implementation “Pro poor governance” initiatives.
In order for a “pro poor governance” policy to materialize and become sustainable, the national government should not forget to include in its programs the capacitating of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA-L), which has been struggling due to the lack of enough budgetary allotment and the emergence of other bureaucratic neglects. The EPA-L needs to benefit from a number of policy initiatives—(a) increasing its budget from under $900k to about $4.5 million dollars annually; (b) strengthening its human capital with trained personnel; (c) providing community-driven educational awareness; (d) establishing effective garbage collection practices; (e ) collecting metals of all sorts in and around the country, especially in Monrovia and its environs; (f) building an engineering functional landfill; (g) allowing EPA-L to sit at every concession and any environment-related agreements to identify and ensure all environmental compliance protocols; (h) allowing EPA-L to enforce all environmental laws and ordinances with no external interferences; (i) reviewing and strengthening current environmental laws; (j) instituting an environmental court or its equivalent for public redress; and (k) researching environment-related challenges, using effective laboratory testing labs.
Public policies are quite often driven by public opinions. In the case of the environment and disaster management, awareness campaigns can profoundly reach wider audiences if they are championed by political leaders and social activists. Against this background, it is recommended that H.E President George Weah along with the head of EPA-L use the appropriate public platforms to stress the importance of the environment to the country and declare a date in every month for an environmental cleanup campaign for the entire country and not just in Monrovia as being carried out by the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC). If the EPA-L is given the leverage to fully operate as an autonomous agency free of all external and internal interferences, it could support its operational budget and still be able to contribute to government coffers.
On the disaster management front, similar capacity building is required. Since the creation of the Nation Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) in 2015/2016, it has remained virtually dormant due to the lack of budgetary allotment. The NDMA needs to be functional to fully address the challenges on hand, such as profiling or identifying potential hotspots, providing robust educational awareness that is community-driven. This would include prevention and preparedness, and response to and recovery from disasters. A community emergency response team (CERT) concept could be organized since communities are the first line of defense when disaster strikes.
The indisputable fact is that national government cannot neglect salient social responsibilities in a country where unemployment stands at at least 85%. When people are unemployed, they have no insurance, but when they become ill, they visit government-sponsored hospitals, increasing service costs. “Pro poor governance” should provide the enabling environment and opportunities for residents to be healthy and able to help themselves as well as help the nation produce ample goods and services.