‘New Monrovia’: An Environmental Disaster? 


If one were to take a tour downtown Monrovia, there isn’t much of an attraction as the old city is host to overpopulation and many dilapidated buildings overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Over the hills, are series of natural islands, one be the proposed new city.

However, there have been series of concerns associated with the idea since President Weah designated one of those islands—Bali Island—to be constructed as “New Monrovia”. Many believe it could be an attempt by the new government to impress and/or improve its citizens and infrastructures through its developmental agenda or a scheme put in place to keep critics at bay.

Various articles have been written to address the social, economic, political and environmental issues allied with the construction of the proposed city. Amongst those articles, Front Page Africa (FPA) gave a perceptive approach to the topic with both political and environmental insights.

The FPA asserted that the Liberian Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led the charge in 2003 to become a signatory to the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources—the Ramsar Convention. As a matter of fact, UNESCO in January of 2002 designated its first site, Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount, in Liberia. Moreover, four other sites—The Gbedin Wetlands in Nimba, the Kpatawee Wetlands in Bong County which hosts the Kpatawee waterfalls, the Marshall Wetlands in Margibi County and the Mesurado Wetlands in Monrovia—in Liberia were designated for conservation.

Basically, what Liberia signed into was to conserve and wisely use its wetlands through local, national actions and international cooperation as contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world. And under the three pillars of the convention, the contracting partners (member-countries) commit to provide measures that will protect indigenous species making it impossible for them to go extinct or become vulnerable. Wetlands are not habitable; shouldn’t be used for the deposal of wastes. And, most importantly, Government should ensure the effective management of wetlands such as Bali (on the list of wetlands of international importance) to ensure their effective management.

It must also be noted that parties (member-countries) to the Ramsar Convention contribute to the maintenance of the operation and management of the Convention and Liberia is no exception. Numerically, the triennium between 2013 and 2015 was 5.5 million or 4.2 million euro collected from member-countries, However, Liberia has received funding, ranging from 104,000 a year to 1.5 million US dollars as payment towards conservation of its five designated wetlands, according to the Ramsar Convention Manuals 6th Edition.

The truth of the matter is issues affecting the environment are becoming alarming not only for Liberia but the world at large. Drought, desertification, land degradation and poverty are challenges to our sub-Sahara region and the tempering with water bodies and/or wetlands that are stabilizing our environment and ecosystems are in direct proportion to competing factors that could alleviate our impoverished countries and Liberia isn’t an exception.   

The Ramsar Convention is particularly interested in the conservation and stabilization of the already fast depleting water bodies around the world as those wetlands would serve in protecting and improving water quality, providing fish and wildlife habitats, storing floodwater and maintaining surface water flow during dry periods. The Convention has attracted already 130 governmental signatories, and that states the magnitude of the problem.

What is even more remarkable is Bali island, according to the Convention, provides a favourable habitat and feeding ground for several species of birds including the locally known long legs water bird or spoonbill ( African spoonbill Platalea alba), the bush pigeon(Common Pratincole Glareola nuchaltis )and long mouth bird or curlew (Curlew Numenius arquata. It also hosts the vulnerable African dwarf crocodile, the Nile crocodile and the African sharp-nosed crocodile, and plays an important role in shoreline stabilization and sediment trapping,” reported FPA.

The Dilemma

There are reports that Liberia is still on the finalizing stages of the protocol, especially in the managerial aspects of maintaining those wetlands Therefore, the Bali Island, for instance, remains vulnerable to environmental disasters, which is evident by the existing accumulation of contaminants or pollutants deposited in the basin beneath central Monrovia—Snapper Hill, Slipway, Vai town, West Point, Waterside, to name a few—and disposal of wastes by main land which directly runs into the river to the Island and its environs. Factories on the Bushrod Islands are using the separating screams to dispose of chemicals which could threaten wildlife as the Bali Island runs parallel to other main lands and islands. Least, it’s seemingly obvious that the Bali Island appears abandoned than Conserved. The worst is whether Liberia will breach the Convention by constructing the “New Monrovia” in a wetland that should be conserved. What would other partners and conservationists make of Liberia’s decision to contravene protocols? 

Nevertheless, there are always possible remedies to overwhelming issues. To begin with, there are several islands in the vicinity of Bali Island, namely: Frederick Island, Providence Island, Kpoto Island, to name a few. Wetlands around Liberia could be transformed or created to suit the natural habitat if those named Islands aren’t already breeding grounds for those species. Those wetlands could benefit the protection of endangered species especially under the endangered species act. Moreover, since those species natural habitats would be tempered with, government must sensitize people to be wildlife friendly and must stop the frequent use of pesticides and herbicides. 

The Bali Island along with its endangered species had long existed before 2003, and government effort to sign a treaty which offers favourable sites for conservation seems more like fund generation than interest in wetland conservation.  Thus, Liberia is in a tight spot.

The Convention has stressed the significance of the wetland, which is quite notable but there are measures that can be put in place to protect those vulnerable flora and fauna The “New Monrovia” if constructed, must comply with EPA rules and regulations which could safeguard the environment and people.

Either ways, Liberia has approximately 51 percent of total green forest, six major rivers that vertically cut across the country and a wide stretched of Atlantic Ocean from East to West. In short, Liberia doesn’t fall short of wetlands. 

Written by Elchico M. Fawundu, (Instructor) and Students of Environmental Science 201, 301 & 304, Semester II, 2018 – Environmental Department/ Technical College Stella Maris Polytechnics