Monrovia, West Point & Colonel West – About three years ago, Mariama Tweh, a 45-year-old fish seller and a mother of eight children, heard the loud sound of waves when the sea hit the walls of their house during midnight. They woke up when everything was flooded, and within no time, their house started to fall as she remembered the night in June 2019. They rushed out confusedly when the water swept away everything of theirs.
By: Mae Azango & J. Dennis Weah, contributing writer
“I and my children were sleeping together in one room that my pastor gave me in the churchyard in West Point estate because I don’t have money to find a place of my own,” said Tweh in an interview.
Tweh is among 6,500 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in West Point, for which over 800 homes were swallowed by the sea from 2014-2022, according to the National Disasters Management Agency reports. The sea victims are now struggling for places to stay while finding it hard to get food and money to keep their children in schools.
The government of President Weah has promised to construct a coastal defense project without relocating the inhabitants of the slum community. “A revetment process of building a wall to stop the sea erosion in West Point is in progress, and the project will allow people to remain in West Point and not be relocated,” says Prof Wilson Tarpeh, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The six-year coastal defense project, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Fact Sheet on Climate Change, indicates a Risk in Liberia Coastal Zones. The sea level rise and associated coastal flooding are putting increasing stress on Liberia’s extensive and productive coastal zone. In addition to supporting key agriculture and fishing activities, the coast is home to almost 60 percent of the population, much of which resides in the areas already at risk from the ongoing situation.
However, the United Nation Development Project (UNDP) Resident Representative Stephen Rodrigues, in 2022, said the $25.6 million Monrovia Metropolitan Climate Resilience Project kicked off. “The project, implemented by UNDP, will see large rocks placed along the shoreline to build a wall that will hold the sea back. The project was planned with the world’s best engineers accordingly, and will hold the sea back at least 40 years,” he said.
While modalities for the revetment project are being worked on, the Weah-led government is said to have provided a temporary relocation package of US$230.00 per family head for sea erosion victims. The package is intended as a year’s rent for each family head made victim through the National Disaster Management Agency, but some of the victims have complained of not receiving their package.
Businesswoman Christina Dapay, alias Eye-to-Eye, a household name in West Point, had the biggest food center in the township, was also made homeless and complained to the West Point Disaster Victims Association of not receiving her package of two hundred and thirty United States dollars, which the government promised them. “I need help; I don’t have anything now, and I was sleeping in the church building for two years. Right now, I and the children are sleeping in one room that my friend gave me a few months ago. I came here for my money business because things are tough now, and there is no way to pay school fees for the children. We are selling cold water to get our food money. We went to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, trying to see President George Weah and tell him about our money problem, but there was no way to see him,” Dapay explains.
According to West Point Commissioner Mr. William C. Wea, in 2022, efforts to relocate people from West Point to the Brewerville Community on the outskirts of Monrovia, which began during the Sirleaf administration, failed when people started returning to West Point because they were unable to fish and fend for themselves. Many victims, including 64-year-old Rachel Moore, who now sells locally sunbaked fish mixed with salt known as ‘Muenmuen’, worry about the loss of their properties and are among those facing challenges regarding the relocation package.
“I received $230 US dollars, but since then we haven’t heard anything about the $500 US dollars they promised to give us for business to sell and improve our lives. We were told that the $230 US dollars was intended for one-year rent payment, that’s all,” says Moore.
As Tweh and several victims now feel the pinch of displacement in the highly populated township of West Point, Colonel West, another coastal community located in the Borough of New Kru Town, also has several victims of sea erosion, and the number could increase without interventions from the government and partners regarding their relocation package. Agatha Kwoh, one of the victims, spoke about the earlier construction of the coastal defense project in 2018. Pointing to where her house was situated, she said:
“Our late parents left my sister and me a ten-bedroom house, and the sea broke down half of the building. Half of it remained, but those who came to build the coastal defense project put us out and broke down the entire house without giving us anything. I am teaching at the Kongee Konwroh School in the community, and my salary is US$25 monthly. The money cannot help take care of me and my children,” says Agatha.
Adding to the voices of the victims regarding their relocation package, the West Point Disaster Management Association said they are advocating for the West Point sea erosion victims to receive their relocation package, but many victims are yet to receive their disaster package.
“The plight of the disaster victims remains our concern, and we have been engaging the National Disaster Management Agency and using the airwaves to remind them to pay the remaining people who have not received their money for their temporary rent payment, but it seems like they are paying deaf ears to our calls,” says Daniel Grant, president of West Point Disaster Management Association.
Interestingly, the National Disaster Management Agency could not provide copies of the payment listing of victims who have received packages and those who have not due to power outages, but they admitted to claims made by some of the victims of not receiving their package and why they could not continue payment.
“They came to our office, and we encouraged those who had a problem with their phone numbers to go and register their numbers in their own names and bring the numbers back to us so we could forward them to the GSM companies for payment. They could not get their money because the companies said to us that the numbers they provided were not registered in their names, and they failed to comply,” Archievego Doe, Director of Communication and Media Affairs at the National Disaster Management Agency said.
The situation for Mariama Tweh and other victims remains a challenge as they struggle for a sustainable livelihood. “We are all victims, but you cannot give certain people money and leave others out, so let the government come in to see about us. I am begging them. Even the government talked about blocking the sea, but they never started doing any work yet, and the sea is still troubling us. Every night we are in fear, especially during the rainy season,” Mariama in West Point disclosed.