Water Shortage Hits Monrovia: Liberia Water & Sewer Corp. Major Pipes Down As Community Wells, Hand Pumps Unable To Meet Demand


Monrovia – It’s late afternoon and scores of people are standing in a queue under the scorching sun near a water well just at the entrance of Slipway Community in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

Report by Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo, [email protected]

As the hours drag on, some people waiting with water containers decide to abandon the line and fetch water from a nearby river.

Waiting in line is frustrating but fetching unsafe water is even worse – especially for the residents in this neighborhood.

The over 10,000 residents here are among the hundreds of thousands of people living in Monrovia’s slums, where pipe-borne water is often acutely scarce.

Slipway community’s demand for safe drinking water is pretty high. Homes are without running water, constraining families to go all out in search of any water source. Most people have now turned to the Du River, which is often polluted with feces. 

There are three water kiosks in this community but when they are down, the community turn to the only two water wells and a hand pump.

Celia Tarr is a trader who regularly fetches water from one of the wells in the community. She’s worried that the growing water shortage is affecting families and businesses.

“There’s a need for a sustainable solution,” Tarr says, adding that the situation is exacerbating.

A five-gallon container of water is now being sold for L$60 (US$0.37), the price has tripled to L$120 (US$0.74) since the shortage.

UNICEF 2017 report states that low-lying areas of Liberia are prone to flooding, an issue compounded by the country’s ineffective water and sewage infrastructure, improper waste disposal, pollution and open defecation –conditions under which waterborne illnesses such as cholera and diarrhea thrive.

UNICEF Liberia said they responded to a flood emergency in the town of Unification in Margibi County (central) in April, which affected an estimated 3,000 persons and included the provision of Water Guard for household water treatment to 466 families (2,485 persons), and psychosocial support services to 28 children (18 girls, 10 boys).

Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation is still struggling to deal with its eroded pipes since the end of the civil crisis.

The Millennium Challenge Account Liberia (MCA-L) last year December signed a US$18 million agreement with the LWSC for the construction of major pipeline responsible to supply water to over one million customers in Monrovia and its environs.

On Wednesday, February 6, several urban communities begun hit by water shortage. Johnsonville, Paynesville, Congo Town, Sinkor, and Central Monrovia were all without supplies.

The LWSC confirmed the situation and said it was due to a “technical breakdown of its 36-inch transmission pipe” and that there will be a disruption of water supply to communities along the route.

The shortage was expected to last for about seven days, the agency said, noting that “only communities along the 36-inch transmission route will be affected.”

“LWSC regrets any inconvenience this disruption may cause the general public and its valued customers and assures the public that its technicians are working rapidly to restore the damaged 36-inch transmission pipe,” it said.

According to LWSC, technicians are working to repair the damaged 36-in transmission pipe that carries water to Paynesville, Congo Town, and Monrovia.

The LWSC is facing a reduction in its budget – from a US$1,557,336 allocation in 2016/2017 to 1,057,130 in 2017/2018. Currently, the agency has been allotted US$912,034.

It is unclear how the budget cut is impacting the agency’s performance.

According to 2017 UNICEF annual report, a nationwide water-point mapping exercise highlighted the scale of inequitable access to WASH facilities in south-eastern Liberia and in urban slums in Monrovia.

The report states that an estimated 58,000 people living in five communities of the capital’s most congested slums benefited from the extension of water supply systems and gender-and disability-friendly sanitation facilities, while 41,000 students benefited from improved water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services and 39,000 benefited from better WASH systems in 10 healthcare facilities.

However, most Liberians still do not have access to running water, which is supplied to some neighborhoods by the LWSC.

Residents trek to other communities to fetch water from sources that are unsafe, causing health consequences including a recent surge in waterborne diseases.

Ophelia Toe, a resident of Sayon Town goes to Slipway every day to fetch water.

“We can avoid calamities such as cholera if people have access to clean and safe water, I can’t afford to get all my water from the tap because it is expensive,” she explains.

Toe pays for water at a community kiosk but sometimes she’s can’t afford. And when she can’t, her family drinks from a faraway neighborhood well, which she’s not convinced is clean.

Danesius Boayue, another resident who also faces daily water problems, knows how dangerous the consequences of water scarcity can be. Two years ago, Boayue recalls how his daughter contracted cholera.  

She survived, but it is still not easy to get clean water in order to avert similar situation.

“Sometimes children would drink water from the well which is meant for washing dishes, because to them, water is water, whether from the well or from the tap,” he says.

“We have to wake up very early to grab water or else my home wouldn’t have water, even sometimes we have to go to Saye Town or Clara Town to fetch water mostly when the kids are in school.”

Adolphus Bedell sells water in jerrycans. He moves around with several canes in a locally made wheel barrow [ known here as push-push].

For two days, Bedell has not supplied his customers due to water shortage and has now begun fetching water from the river nearby.

“Now, the only thing is that I am going to fetch water from anywhere since it is to only flush the bathroom, one thing I will do is to inform them where the water is taken from,” he said. Unfortunately, for him, the police has barred him from further fetching water from the river and he’s cannot find another source.