Liberia: Changing a Country One Step at a Time

The need is great and the devastation overwhelming. How does one begin? According to Michael Simpson, director of the Resource Management and Conservation program in Antioch University New England’s Department of Environmental Studies, it starts one step, and one latrine, at a time, for Liberia is drowning in filth and trash.

Liberia is a country of over three million people, slightly larger than the state of Ohio, on the west coast of Africa. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Liberia means, “Land of the Free,” and was founded in 1821 as an independent nation for freeborn and formerly enslaved Blacks. Since 1989 it has witnessed two civil wars (that have just recently ended) that displaced hundreds of thousands of people, took two hundred and fifty thousand lives, and destroyed the country’s economy. All systems for regulating life have been severely fractured resulting in a severe health crisis, substandard housing, and little remaining business. It is difficult to exaggerate the negative impact that the war had on Liberia’s physical, social, political, economic, and governance infrastructures.

Poor sanitation conditions in both cities and rural areas have resulted in increased disease, contaminated water, and, pollution of land and air. Trash mountains litter the country and sewers are virtually nonexistent. Conditions everywhere are dire and all-pervasive.

For the past year Michael Simpson has been working with a group, Ducor Waste Management, to address this huge problem. (Simpson is part of an advisory council assembled by Liberian born Francis Nyepon, the president/CEO of the company.). Their approach is to initially focus on one of the thirty large marketplaces in the capital city of Monrovia, a city with a population of one million people. These community marketplaces have the largest concentration of waste build-up in the city. It is hoped that their venture will eventually service the over thirty thousand vendors, market-women, and shopkeepers who reside in this area.

This project being developed by Simpson is designed to create self-sustaining micro-businesses that provide environmental services to both commercial and residential areas. The current, initial project in the marketplace is a pilot study that will, hopefully, provide insight into the challenges that must be addressed, collect relevant data, and form a business plan for expanding the model program.

The work of Ducor Waste Management is multifaceted and includes the collection of trash to recycle and disposal stations, improving water, hygiene, and food treatment. Sewage systems are being developed that will eliminate the raw sewage that is currently widespread. It is absolutely imperative that such systems are established and maintained. With this in mind, the utilization of local labor is integral to the proposed system of continual and ongoing management of waste.

“Success breeds success,” states Simpson. “Everyone goes to the market, so as the marketplace is cleaned up morale improves, new businesses are established, and hope is implanted with tangible proof that this hugely prevalent problem can indeed be dealt with.”

Simpson was in Liberia this summer and plans to return in late fall to continue to analyze, develop, and implement this innovative waste elimination project in the marketplace of Monrovia. Simpson hopes to have an operations plan finalized by November with the goal of implementation throughout all marketplaces within the city.

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