18 December 2012

Liberia: Necessary - Ministry of Water & Sanitation

Following the World Water Conference in 2000 in Dakar, Senegal, gathering nearly 200 countries but with Liberia and Somalia absent, most countries in the Africa region have since placed water and sanitation under a single umbrella and elevated the sector to a ministerial level for its effective coordination and management.

Some of these countries which had a ministry of mines and hydrology or ministry of health and sanitation or ministry of rural development and water, etc., created the ministry of water and sanitation to form leverage when heads of the water sector in Africa meet to discuss issues concerning its proper management and use on the continent.

A major resolution which emerged from that conference called for ensuring the availability of clean water, being the source of life, under the management of governments.

Most Ecowas countries, except a few like Liberia, have since created water and sanitation ministries on par with counterparts in other parts of Africa, and rejected placing the water sector into private hands.

Their argument, according to the resolution, is: the private sector dwells on profit, whereas the government which is obliged to provide water for its citizens, including the indigent, should take charge and subsidize it if necessary.

War-torn Somalia and Liberia were conspicuously absent at the World Water Conference in Dakar 2000; for Liberia, perhaps due to wangling among heads of government agencies who must coordinate and decide about water and sanitation issues.

A summit of African ministers of water and sanitation followed the World Water Conference, where WASH was proposed, and no doubt, many attendees are today benefiting from decisions taken at both conferences.

For Liberia, managing water, especially pure water for consumption, has for years, not received adequate attention, most likely due to fragmentation of the sector under several line ministries and the parastatal Liberia, Water & Sever Corporation (LWSC).

Cognizant of the fact that water is life, the government created LWSC to manage the water sector in the country, but its performance over the years has suffered painful bureaucratic constraints because decisions needed for its adequate management hinged on several ministries whose operation are connected to the sector, and therefore, must be part of its decision-making process.

Aside from the LWSC, the ministries of health and social welfare, public works, planning and economic affairs, agriculture and internal affairs, all form integral part of the decision-making process about ensuring that water resources in the country are developed for the benefit of the entire population.

Recognizing the inherent weaknesses in this sector, the German government through its technical assistance cooperation, GIZ, built treatment plants and overhead reservoirs for pipe borne water in the capitals of nearly all counties and territories in the mid '70s.

GIZ then used urban development maps and planned routes for galvanized pipes intended to convey pure drinking water to an increasing urban population in the capitals of nine counties as the system expanded.

But the project stagnated after the 1980 coup and especially the execution of Foreign Minister C.

Cecil Dennis, then a close counterpart to Germany's Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who reportedly advised Bonn to suspend bilateral relations with Monrovia and even vowed never to visit Liberia again.

GIZ built water facilities in most county capitals stopped functioning due to lack of support and maintenance.

The water situation in Monrovia, inhabited by half of the population, became acute after rebels destroyed the national water treatment plant at White Plains, 35 km east of the capital.

Most of the population in Monrovia's slum communities use water from wells dug alongside polluted river banks including Slipway, Vaitown, Logantown, West Point and New Krutown.

And aside from how water is managed in Monrovia and a few urban centers, many Liberians, especially inhabitants of most parts of rural Liberia, have been users of water from unsafe sources, including rivers, creeks, streams and unprotected wells.

An indisputable example was the caterpillar invasion that contaminated many wells and creeks to the detriment of thousands of rural people in Bong County in 2009.

Begin the solution of this problem by forming a ministry of water and sanitation pooling experts from all ministries handling water affairs in those ministries, so that Liberia's leverage with other nations in the sub region can be effective and assured.

The more this is not done, African ministers of water and sanitation would continue to shun the head of the LWSC, considered lower than their ministerial level during any African water summit.

It is noteworthy to mention how six months after ascending to the presidency following the death of President William VS Tubman in 1971, William Tolbert replaced 'secretaries' as cabinet positions with ministers in order to save our cabinet heads the enormous embarrassment and confusion in documentation the Liberian title 'secretary' caused them at regional and international conferences.

For instance, Tolbert changed 'Secretary' of the Department of Education, et al. to 'Minister' of Education, etc. to get Liberia on par with cabinet nomenclature in other African countries as opposed to cabinet titles in the U.S.

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