Years of Civil Conflict in Liberia Create Waste Mismanagement and Health and Environmental Degradation

May 12, 2010

For years a toxic blue haze of burning waste greeted the city of Monrovia, Liberia, every morning. Garbage choked the dilapidated drainage system and clogged the sewage network, causing flooding during the rainy season and creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease carriers.
The inhabitants of Monrovia survived by burning, burying and, indiscriminately, dumping their rubbish. Many communities resorted to using their rubbish to reclaim land, filling swamps and extending the riverbanks with exposed garbage.
Estimates of the most evident stockpiles alone amounted to more than 70,000 tons of waste accumulated around the city.
This was the scene in Monrovia in 2005 where a population of nearly one million lived for many years of civil conflict without any formal garbage collection and disposal system.

The build up of solid waste took its toll on the health of the citizens and the environment.  Riverways and drinking water sources were polluted and disease and infection rates sky-rocketed.  More than 26,650 cases of cholera were reported by UNICEF in 2005.
When the conflict ended, a few one-time, massive, clean-up campaigns undertaken by the U.N., UNICEF, NGO’s and the municipality, collected and disposed off some of the waste around Monrovia. But waste continued to accumulate and without a collection system in place, piles of rubbish re-appeared rapidly.
Extensive Clean-up Begins
Real change began to take place in April 2007 when the World Bank, at the behest of the Liberian government, embarked on an ambitious project to resurrect a rudimentary solid waste collection system for the City of Monrovia.
The endeavor was challenging. The Monrovia City Corporation, responsible for the collection of solid waste, had almost no capacity to undertake its responsibilities. The Corporation was equipped with only two functioning trucks and an annual budget of approximately USD$500,000, or one-eighth the budget of cities of comparable size to Monrovia.

The World Bank-funded project commenced with an extensive clean-up by local contractors of the accumulated stockpiles. The project also introduced a regular collection system and 120 skip bins and eight skip trucks were purchased for the municipality. The skip bins were placed in community collection points throughout the city. The collection service was outsourced to private local contractors who operated the municipality’s skip trucks to collect waste from the disbursed bins.
Today, the collection service still is in place and collects approximately 30 percent of daily generated waste in Monrovia. To date, the service has resulted in the collection and disposal of nearly 80,000 tons of waste transforming the appearance of the city and drastically improving the living environment for the population.
“[This is] liberating…,”
Monrovia resident b, said of the impact of the project. “Finally we don’t need to live on our dirt, the streets of Monrovia are cleaner and we are starting to feel proud of our city…”
Future Challenges to Sustaining the System
Disposal of the waste posed its own problems. The poorly managed Fiamah landfill site that existed prior to the commencement of the project was located in close proximity to a residential area and posed significant health and environmental risks. As a temporary measure, the project funded the rehabilitation and proper management of the site. At the same time, a more suitable interim landfill site at Whein Town was identified and is currently being developed as part of the project.
“The project constitutes the first step in a long process,” said World Bank Consultant Bronwyn Grieve. “The challenge now is not only to develop the system further, but to resolve the broader systemic issues relating to how the system will be sustained beyond World Bank funding.”
The future challenges of developing an extensive and sustainable collection system in Monrovia are significant. Innovative solutions for recovering the costs of solid waste disposal will need to be found in a city with limited resources, one that is also home to a large unemployed population living in make-shift shelters and with limited or no capacity to pay garbage fees.
Reform and capacity-building within the municipality and the identification and development of a permanent landfill site are also high on the priority list of creating a functioning solid waste management system.
Despite the challenges, re-introducing a vital public service after 14 years of war has helped to strengthen the sense of citizenship and reinstituted public trust in municipal authorities. Encouraged by the support of the population, the municipality is now seeking further assistance from the World Bank and other donors to strengthen its capacity and ability to deliver services to its constituencies.
Encouraged by the modest but promising results under the emergency project, the Bank remains committed to assist the Monrovia City Council in its efforts to develop, modernize and serve the public. The work continues.