Liberia: COVID-19 Food Distribution So Far Carried out in Only Two Districts in Montserrado County

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IREDD monitored Twenty (20) distribution sites within two districts (district 7 & 8) in Montserrado County from July 29 to August 12, 2020. A total of 10 communities were covered: Seven Communities in West Point Township and 3 communities in Central Monrovia. Each community is further demarcated into blocks.

Monrovia – The Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) says the pace at which the Government’s stimulus food package is being distributed is slow and mostly because of the strategy WFP is using.

In response to COVID-19’s expected toll on the most vulnerable, the Government launched a “stimulus package” to provide minimal food and credit assistance to communities around the country.

The food package, as proposed, consists of each qualified household receiving two 25 kg bags of rice, one gallon of vegetable oil and a 10kg of beans to help sustain the family during the pandemic.

But IREDD, which is funded by the Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative (LAVI) to strengthen transparency and accountability as the Government rollout the stimulus package, says the distribution process is flawed.

IREDD is conducting site monitoring at food distribution centers to assess how readily the centers are accessible to citizens, whether COVID-19 health protocols are been observed and whether the distributions are provided citizens as planned.

“In the absence of a holistic distribution plan from WFP and its implementing partners, we find it difficult to develop our monitoring plan since we do not know when and where their next distribution will cover. We have to rely on field staff who would not give us substantial information without authorization for fear that their jobs will be threatened. We had to be onsite on the distribution day to gather available information from field staff.”

– The Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD)

In one instance which IREDD used as a case study, shows that during the day of distribution, all resources and manpower are diverted to a particular area and it takes minimum of four days to complete distribution in that area and another week before the team moves into a new distribution area.

“The distribution team on ground are finding it very difficult to enforce COVID-19 health measures at all distribution sites as many are not following health guidelines (hand washing, nose mask, social distancing). Over-crowdedness is also a major challenge to security personnel and the food distribution team,” IREDD said in its report.

The IREDD survey also shows that there is lack of information sharing from stakeholders particularly WFP and LISGIS.

The report also shows that the acquisition of public information is a serious challenge to the monitoring process as many offices that were contacted are apparently concealing sensitive information such as the food distribution budget and the distribution plan.

“In the absence of a holistic distribution plan from WFP and its implementing partners, we find it difficult to develop our monitoring plan since we do not know when and where their next distribution will cover. We have to rely on field staff who would not give us substantial information without authorization for fear that their jobs will be threatened. We had to be onsite on the distribution day to gather available information from field staff,” IREDD disclosed in its report.

“IREDD monitored Twenty (20) distribution sites within two districts (district 7 & 8) in Montserrado County from July 29 to August 12, 2020. A total of 10 communities were covered: Seven Communities in West Point Township and 3 communities in Central Monrovia. Each community is further demarcated into blocks.”

The IREDD report also discovered that the World Food Program and the Ministry of Commerce are yet to provide the public with a complete framework for the rollout of Government’s stimulus package relative to food distribution including timelines, location, and costs.

Meanwhile, IREDD is calling for the enforcement of COVID-19 health protocol at all distribution sites to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease; the World Food Program to deploy more people in the field to increase the pace of food distribution and that distributors should treat citizens with dignity by making distribution sites more conducive and accessible to citizens particularly older and physically challenged especially in an event of rainfall while people are in queue.

“While, IREDD recognizes the hard work of local organizations: CHS, VOSIEDA West Africa, it is our hope that the $25 Million invested in the food distribution meets its intended purpose,” the organization said.

IREDD report states that initial steps taken during its monitoring effort involved writing the WFP and the Ministry of Commerce for the comprehensive plan on food distribution, but unfortunately, the two institutions failed to provide them with any plan whatsoever.

According to the report, follow-up with civil society representatives on the Covid-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP) also failed as they were told there was no comprehensive plan or schedule and that the food distribution is done community per community.

The report added: “In spite of these initial challenges, IREDD team found that the World Food Program (WFP), contracted by the Government to leverage its expertise in food distribution, further sub-contracted two local non-governmental institutions: Christian Humanitarian Services (CHS) and VOSEIDA West Africa to carry out the local distributions.”

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