Illegal Sand Mining Ruining Coastal Communities in Liberia


Monrovia – Several communities that once lined Liberia’s coast are now under the Atlantic Ocean and the country risks losing more communities, infrastructures and key landmarks to the sea, if nothing is immediately done to curb sea erosion.

Report by Lennart Dodoo – [email protected], Al Varney Rogers- [email protected]

Except for a few coastal communities occupied by some of the country’s elites, most of these communities are slums, occupied by some of the nation’s poor citizens.

Currently, West Point, a popular peninsula community located downtown Monrovia has lost half of its land mass to the ocean.

The ocean has backwashed itself at the main coal tar road that once passed through the community.

The road has been rendered unusable. It now edges with the Atlantic. It is this community that hosts the head offices of Liberia Electricity Corporation; the facility is no longer far from the ocean.

And the Atlantic is still pushing further.

Most of those who resided in West Point are fishermen and fish mongers. Others are petty traders who preferred the area due to its proximity to Central Monrovia – a commercially active district.

In 2016, most of the residents of West Point were relocated to VOA Community in Brewerville, about 20 km from Monrovia.

The massive sea erosion along the country’s coastal line, especially in the capital has been attributed to illegal sand mining in addition to inadequate coastal defense.

Many jobless youth in these communities turn to the sand as their means of survival.

 “We don’t have jobs; we’re on the streets, where do you expect us to get our living from?

The other people y’all have in the government are stealing our natural resources and sending the money to their families abroad, you’re doing anything about them.

But for us who are jobless and only sell this sand to be able to eat, we’re the ones you are coming after,” Daniel, an illegal sand miner, told FrontPageAfrica.

Daniel and his cohorts, about 10 in number (as was counted on the day of interview), often mine between 300–300 rice bags full of sand every day.

“We sell a bag for L$60.00 [US$0.50] and that’s our livelihood. We’ve been abandoned by the government.”

“You the press people must tell the government to train us and give us jobs, then we’ll stop taking sand from the beach,” Othello, another sand miner said.

Daniel and Othello like many other illegal sand miners do not know effects of sand mining.

“It is not the sand that we’re taking that is causing the sea water to come on the land. When you sea coming on the land, it means there’s [dead] body in the sea, so it gets vex and rushes to the land. Nobody should fool that it is because we’re taking sand from here,” Othello said.

Ma Juah Market hosts about 350 market women who depend mostly on trade for survival. It was named after the grandmother of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who was also a market woman.

The back wall of the market is the only structure that separates the sea from the market.

The ocean hits the wall and retreats, but its foundation is being undermined by sand mining and the sea itself. The wall which is already developing cracks is likely to collapse when the rainy season gets in full swing in June.

Marketers here are afraid that very soon, they’ll have no market building to shelter them and their goods.

They say the water splashes into the market each time it hits the wall from the outside.

Dad S. Wonkulah, Sr. is the superintendent of Ma Juah Market. He expressed his frustration over the gradual loss of the market.

Pointing to the remnant of a septic tank pointing out in the ocean, told FrontPageAfrica that there was a football pitch and two buildings before the market wall, but all those structures have been consumed by the sea.

“Before we came here, we had two buildings before the wall, there were structures and football field, but as you can see, the sea has taken away everything,” he said.

“If nothing is done about this it will affect us badly. As you can see our economy is at a down turn, very very poor; we are in the rainy season already and the sea is getting very rough, so anything can happen at any time. My marketers in there are worried every day.”

“See the catastrophe it is causing right now.”

The Ma Juah Market was formally located at the Vai Town end of the Gabriel Tucker Bridge.

The marketers were relocated to Johanson Community behind the Ducor Hill. The marketers see the relocation as doing them more harm than good, especially with the emerging sea attack on the market building.

Sonieh Myers trades used shoes in the market. Her stall is very close the back wall. She told FrontPageAfrica that most of her colleagues had to relocate because splashes of the sea often wet their goods.

“We’ve got only few more months here for this wall to drop,” Sonieh said.

“One morning we’ll come here in the morning and see that the water has taken over the entire place, so it is our fear and worry. I need Ma Ellen to help us immediately.”

“The people on the beach taking the sand from here, that’s one of the main things causing this problem.”

Both Sonieh and the market superintendent called on the Liberia Maritime Authority to intervene by guarding the area as to prevent illegal mining.

They also want relocation, preferably back to the original Ma Juah Market, they said.

When contacted concerning the illegal sand mining, authorities at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy said they would respond at a later time date. Maritime authority could not be reached.

The market is not the only essential structure on the verge of destruction.

The famous D. Twe High School in the New Kru Town, Bushrod Island, is the only public school available to the Island’s over 970,824 population (as of the 2008 census) it’s now sitting at the direct edge of the Atlantic Ocean – soon to be gone, too.

The school lost its fence to the sea last rainy season. Now, the building itself is its own defense against the ocean.

 A resident of New Kru Town, Prince Nagbe, expressed sadness over the government’s inability to find a lasting solution to the sea erosion.

“This is not strange, every year we are faced with this; D. Tweh is not the only thing [structure] that the sea is washing away, even this whole New Kru Town will soon go under the water,” Nagbe lamented.

“Last year, we lost several homes and all we received is food from people; nobody is thinking about solving this problem once and for all.”

Nagbe said, losing D. Tweh to sea erosion means the community will be without a public high school.

According to IRIN in 2008, sea erosion has drastic effects on the education of its victim.  It is reported that the sea erosion in West Point resulted to more than 200 primary school students losing their school.

Nagbe said most people in New Kru Town are below the poverty line, adding that losing the school means several children would be deprived education.

Another resident Michael Toe suggested that school be relocated.

“Look, there’s nothing the government can do. They are trying, since the sea erosion started government and non-governmental organizations have been making some effort, this is the effect of global warming,” Toe added.

Toe said, what would be frustrating is when the government sits and allow the school to be wiped out without a relocation plan.

Toe added that an intervention can be done now, but maintained that relocation is the permanent solution.

A 2010 UNDP Liberia Project Document says Liberia is highly vulnerable to climate change in coastal areas. The coastal population is poor and all social indicators are very low. Unemployment is high and the gender situation is weak.

“Community’s capacity to adapt to climate change is very low, and resilience is very limited.

In the baseline, climate-change induced sea level rise combined with increasing storms and sea-surges could have catastrophic impacts in terms of destroying livelihoods and lives. Already, key economic sectors of fishing, farming and trade are under risk and the displacement of people is increasing,” the report stated.