Voice of America (Washington, DC)

25 July 2014

Liberia Marks Independence Anniversary Amid Ebola and Economic Challenges

The deadliest Ebola outbreak recorded in history is happening right now. The deadly virus has killed more than 600 people in West Africa so far. The ... ( Resource: Widow of Ebola Victim Speaks Out

Liberia celebrates its 167th independence anniversary Saturday amid Ebola fear and economic downturn.

The World Health Organization reports 196 Ebola cases in Liberia with 116 deaths. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf this week announced an additional $500,000 from the government to fund the Ebola campaign.

The country's economic state of affairs has been characterized by increasing poverty, high cost of living, and an upsurge in the exchange rate.

Jeremiah Sulunteh, Liberia's Ambassador to the United States says even though the nation is hurting economically and health wise, 167 years of freedom is enough reason to celebrate.

But Ambassador Sulunteh said the nation is observing this Independence Day with heavy hearts for those who are sick and who have lost their lives to Ebola.

"We are very grateful to the Almighty for sparing the lives of Liberians and friends of Liberia to be able to see 167 years of existence as a country. But while we celebrate, we have some issues of concern in our country. Currently, the government and our people are battling the deadly Ebola virus that has permeated the society and is really affecting our people," he said.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf this week announced an additional $500,000 from the government to fund the Ebola campaign. She called on all Liberians and residents to join the fight against the Ebola outbreak.

"This is not the time for denial; this Ebola issue is true and we all have to fight it together," President Sirleaf said.

In another Ebola-related incident, local media reports said a Liberian man identified as Edward Wellington Dellay on Wednesday set the conference room at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare on fire in in an apparent protest against the government's handling of the Ebola outbreak.

Ambassador Sulunteh says the Embassy is moving this year's Independence Day cultural festivities to Philadelphia where he says an estimated 30,000 Liberians reside.

"For the past two years that I have been ambassador, and every time we planned the July celebration, especially the cultural extravaganza some of those who participate have always come from Philadelphia. And so we said it's only fair this time to go to them. Besides, Philadelphia has about 30,000 Liberians living there; Minnesota has got about 22,000, and Staten Island has 11,000. So we don't think it's fair for them to leave their area every year to come to Washington," Sulunteh said.

Besides the Ebola epidemic, Liberia is also marking this year's independence anniversary in difficult economic times.

Former Public Works Minister, Samuel Kofi Woods reportedly described the country's economic state of affairs as been characterized by increasing poverty, high cost of living, and an upsurge in the exchange rate.

Some Liberians have suggested that the country has nothing to celebrate on this 167th independence anniversary. But Ambassador Sulunteh says 167 years of freedom is enough of a reason to celebrate.

"As I said earlier, you cannot stop celebrating the 102nd anniversary of your Grandmother because she's poor. I think we should embrace our independence. Even though we've got challenges along the way, but there have been some gains since our civil war, and we should be able to recognize that," Sulunteh said.

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