Insufficient access to clean water sources is one of the primary issues that developing countries are facing today, particularly in Africa. Without clean drinking water, people in these countries turn to unsafe secondary sources which can spread disease and promote unhealthy living conditions. Particularly during COVID-19, access to reliable drinking water has become more critical than ever. Liberia’s water crisis is an example of why safe water sources are so important.
Causes of Water Insecurity in Liberia
Situated on the coast of West Africa between the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, Liberia is a relatively small country with a population of just over 5 million people. It is Africa’s oldest republic, declaring its independence and drafting a constitution that it modeled on that of the United States in 1847. It is a tropical country with ample water sources, but several wars and disasters are to blame for the country’s lack of water purification systems and a limited ability to transport those resources.
Two brutal civil wars, first from 1989-1997 and again from 1999-2003, severely damaged Liberia’s infrastructure and nearly destroyed its economy. The country experienced a subsequent period of economic growth but lost much of its progress during the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015. This outbreak caused the death of over 4,800 Liberians, causing the country to struggle in rebuilding its economy and infrastructure ever since. Liberia now relies heavily on international organizations and foreign aid, especially in securing potable water.
Combating the water crisis in Liberia is an undoubtedly daunting task. For example, 3.7 million Liberians— or eight in 10 people—do not have access to a functioning toilet. This deficiency forces citizens to relieve themselves outside in groundwater sources, which quickly become contaminated and allow for faster disease transmission. Ebola spread throughout the country as rapidly as it did because of the scarcity of clean toilets, which fostered diseases such as diarrhea. Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children in Liberia, with over 700 children under the age of 5 dying each year due to the disease.
In addition to damaging people’s health, Liberia’s water crisis reaches into other aspects of society such as education. Many children remain at home to help around the house, particularly with water retrieval, instead of attending school. For those who do go to school, the shortage of proper toilet facilities in classrooms can result in disease spread and has contributed to the country’s ever-increasing dropout rate. While the water crisis is widespread and threatens to grow with the rise of COVID-19, several organizations are collaborating with the Liberian government to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and provide clean water to those who need it most. Here are three organizations providing clean water in Liberia.
3 Organizations Providing Clean Water in Liberia
- UNICEF: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the most prominent organization combating Liberia’s water crisis. UNICEF has been working with the Liberian government to construct water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems in rural areas with extremely limited access to clean water, as well as schools and hospitals. These low-cost, high-quality centers are key to increasing nationwide hygiene and personal health. As of 2017, nearly 65% of all Liberian WASH systems were functioning properly and serving the country’s citizens, up from just 53% in 2011.
- Charity: Water: Charity: Water is a nonprofit organization focused on the global water crisis as a whole, and has an operation in Liberia. In Liberia, Charity: Water is working to restore an aging water-transporting infrastructure that has either experienced destruction or simply not received repair since the last civil war. In addition, the program educates communities on maintaining personal hygiene and teaches locals how to keep these water projects operational.
- Face Africa: Face Africa is another nonprofit organization that aims to bring clean and safe drinking water to developing countries, but with a tighter regional focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. Since the start of its mission in Liberia, the organization has completed 50 WASH projects in the country’s rural areas and brought clean drinking water to over 25,000 people. Similar to Charity: Water, Face Africa focuses on ensuring that pre-existing water projects in Liberia are functioning properly and serving their communities. Additionally, the organization is building its own WASH projects in the country.
While combating Liberia’s water crisis is no easy feat, UNICEF, Charity: Water and Face Africa are all doing their part to help end the issue. As Liberia’s economy grows and its ability to rebuild its failing infrastructure strengthens, the country will better able to fight off future water crises.
– Alexander Poran