2 July 2014

Liberia: Flooding Nightmare - Roads Turn to Rivers As Govt Folds Hands

Monrovia — Major Streets in Monrovia are impassable during this time of the year as vehicles are seen submerged in flood waters with youths, mainly men standing nearby to help pull out vehicles from flood waters for monetary reward.

"We can help you haul your car, you just give us something", one anxious youth told a taxi cab driver who had just gone into a deep hole in the Vai Town Community, on the Bushrod Island, a suburb of Monrovia. Residents in some communities are compelled to migrate due to flood overtaking their homes.

Bendu Massaquoi, a resident of Clara Town [commonly called Ma-Bendu] 52, sits on a bamboo chair in front of her house watching the heavy downpour of rain, gradually turning her yard into a pool. Ma-Bendu thinks the stockpile of dirt in the drainage and the construction of homes on the waterway is responsible for what is happening in her yard.

"Every rainy season our yard can be with so-so water because people are using the drainage to throw dirt there. So when the dirt piles up, it blocks the water from flowing, then the water starts to spread in our yard and it enters our house, this is the problem we are in," Ma-Bendu laments. Ma-Bendu explains that apart from the clogged drainages, people building homes on the waterway is another factor responsible for the flooding.

The Clara Town resident says the community leaders should begin to put tougher measures in place so as to ensure that people do not use the drainage as a dumping site. She adds that the government should have a sanitation team that will make sure drainages are cleaned regularly, calling for punishment against people who build on the waterway.

"Some of us try to have this place [drainage] clean, but people will come at night and dump dirt here, so the government needs to find places for people to put their dirt. "The water fills our yard and enter into my house and wet everything; when the raining season starts for us in Clara town our worries begin," Ma-Bendu said.

Ma-Bendu who says she sells charcoal for a living, says the heavy downpour of rain on Tuesday wet all her charcoal meaning she is going to be out of business the entire week. Ma-Bendu says the government of Liberia should find a permanent solution to the water in her community. "Every year the same thing is happening and nobody wants to help us by stopping this water from entering our homes."

It's a rainy day in Clara Town, a densely populated community of makeshift homes occupying a huge portion of the Bushrod Island territory, just a few miles away the busy streets of downtown Monrovia, Liberia's administrative and commercial home.

Despite its ideal location for business activities of foreign and local enterprises, it takes an extraordinary ability to fend for oneself in the wake of the town's poor living standard. The hustle for survival seems to be quite difficult for many dwellers here, but yet many are defying the odds and making ends meet daily in spite of the nation's tough economic times.

In a part of the Clara town slum, which has proudly produced Liberia's greatest soccer legend now turned politician George Manneh Weah, several disasters ranging from flood, fire and sea erosion have never been too far from the inhabitants' doorsteps.

In this festive month of July where Liberians are enthusiastically anticipating yet another Independence Day gala, residents appear to be not too happy ahead of the ceremony in the wake of continuous flooding gradually overtaking the community, adding more troubles to the already underprivileged dwellers in Clara town.

Patricia Sackie, a 36-year-old lady who has resided in Clara town for five consecutive years looks worried as the torrential rain pours down profusely. Patricia is a single mother of two - a 7-year-old and another a 12-year-old, but she must leave early morning from her zinc shack around a makeshift home to fend for her family. In the process, the rainy season is a major obstacle to her operation.

Patricia says it's more than countless times she and her children must stay awake to allow the downpour of rain that often penetrates into their bedroom to subside. In the end, they still cannot have a better sleep as nearly all their mattresses, bed sheets and some personal belongings become soaked with water as a result of the flood.

Says Patricia: "This is not new to us anymore. We have cried to the government, but no way to solve this problem. Like we are in the rainy season now, it's not easy for me and my family. We have to wake up for several hours to wait for the water to cool down before we can look for some dry clothes in the room."

Patricia explains that the persistent flood can be attributed to the failure of the city government to clean the drainages which has been engulfed with huge piles of garbage thus blocking the waterways that subsequently lead to flooding.

'Please come to our aid'

Others point to the poor road works done by Chinese and the lack of drainages as a key reason why the roads are in a deplorable state with no access to the water to flow.

Patricia says once we have all the dirt removed from the gutters, it would allow space for the water to flow. "I am sure we will be in peace and our children will have the time to study properly. For me, I am not educated that much, but my children need time to focus on their lessons especially in the night time. We are calling on the President to please come to our aid to solve this flood problem."

In the nearby Jamaica road community, which suffers flood even during the dry season, Sidiki Kamara, a multi scratch card vendor, sits beside his booth surrounded by water. Kamara has to keep his feet on a stone while water flows under his feet. But on a grave rainy day like Tuesday.

"This is how we have been operating since I came on this road," he says. "Sometimes no business and sometimes we do business. It's a serious case in this community that we ourselves cannot handle easily. We are praying that the relevant authorities will hear us loud and clear and come to our aid." Like Bushrod Island, Paynesville is gradually becoming flooded; a resident and former City Mayor of Paynesville Isaac Flomo blames the flooding on narrow drainages constructed. "The drainage they have laid out are very narrow, so the water cannot find its way because of this it spreads out to the community," Flomo says.

Former mayor blames Poor construction

Flomo continued: "We are challenging the engineers to do the right thing because the quality of the drainage is poor. If the funding to do the job is not sufficient do not agree to do the work."

He says the government needs to take action against companies constructing substandard roads. He adds that the poorly-constructed roads are responsible for the flooding. Says Flomo: "It is about time that the government finds a solution to the flooding. The water gets into people's homes, making them displaced when there is no war, look in the fish market where our President lives, that community is under threat due to the flood."

The former Mayor added: "The president needs not to be told because in her own back yard it is flooded; the President should see her community and know what other people are going through.

Flood is not a new scenario in Liberia especially in the capital Monrovia. Even the residence of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suffered the from severe flooding which led to angry residents in the Fish Market Community and other environs to forcibly bust the fence of the President to give way to the free flow of water.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Public works quickly carried out a massive opening of drainages around the President's vicinity while other residents like Kamara and Sackie are still seeking assistance to curb their situation. According to the Red Cross thousands of Liberians across the country suffer yearly from flood leaving several of them homeless and loosing dozens of assets.

Public Works blames Outdated Zoning map

An official of the Ministry of Public Works, Mr. Claude Langley Deputy Minister for Technical Services on Tuesday told lawmakers that over-flooding of the city and other parts of the country is due to the lack of capacity by the ministry to respond.

According to Deputy Minister Langley, most of the drainages are being clogged by solid waste thrown into them by community members and only the right equipment can help clear those clogged, but said the Ministry does not have any of the equipment.

He also blamed the over flooding of the city to the construction of structures over drainages something he said, is a result of the outdated zoning map the city is operating with. He called on the Legislature to make the needed appropriation for the ministry to enable it acquire some of the equipment needed.

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