homelessness in liberia
Liberia is a country on the coast of West Africa with a population of about 4.61 million people. Around 1.3 million people live in extreme poverty—a classification that food insecurity and no access to shelter characterize. In the urban population, about 65.7% of the people live in slums, while the rural population makes up 75% of the poverty-stricken population. Many of the rural homes consist of a thatch roof with mud walls, providing little security to families. Here is some information about homelessness in Liberia.

Causes of Homelessness in Liberia

As one of the least developed countries in the world, economic and national instability are the main causes of homelessness in Liberia. Liberia struggled with 14 years of civil wars, beginning in 1989 and ending in 2003. The first of the two civil wars began in 1989 after Charles Taylor established the National Patriotic Front of Liberia and set out to overthrow President Samuel Doe’s administration. Taylor recruited thousands of children to fight as soldiers and was responsible for the massacres of many Liberians. He eventually murdered Samuel Doe and took his seat as president in 1997, thus ending the first civil war.

Shortly after, in 2000, LURD, or Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, began its militant attack on Taylor’s administration, which, in retaliation, formed the Revolutionary United Front. As LURD continued its campaign through Liberia, Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL, became a predominant force. It also set out to challenge Taylor’s administration. Collectively, the movements recruited about 15,000 children and about 200,000 people died.

President John Kufuor of Ghana, who was also the chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), organized a peace convention to reconcile the violence in Liberia. In July 2003, LURD declared a ceasefire and Taylor resigned and fled to Nigeria. The Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), facilitated by ECOWAS, established a new election for Liberia in 2005 and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office to lead a newly peaceful Liberia.

The Aftermath of the Civil Wars

When the wars began, Liberis had a population of about 2.1 million people. Over the course of the conflicts, fear and extreme violence caused about 780,000 Liberians to become refugees, and 500,000 became internally displaced. These displacements resulted in camps for families to stay in. These camps then served as recruiting grounds for young children to fight in the war. Those who did not feel protected by the government fled to nearby countries and many abandoned their villages to avoid an attack. By 1990, displacement had affected 50% of Liberia’s population, with women and children making up 80% of the displaced.

Since the end of the civil wars, the government has given little acknowledgment to the issue of homelessness in Liberia. In the Presence of Absence. Today, data estimates that about 400,00 Liberians returned to their villages after fleeing war, and many struggled to find permanent homes. With an unemployment rate of 80%, orphaned child soldiers and a lack of benefit programs from the national government, there has been limited improvement in the housing conditions of Liberia.

Homelessness and Disease

In 2014, Liberia recorded some of the highest Ebola virus case numbers in the world. By the time Liberia declared itself Ebola-free, the CDC recorded 10,678 cases and 4,810 deaths. As a result, 5,900 Liberian children lost one or both parents, leaving many with no option but to live on the streets. Housing also became difficult for those who were on the frontlines of the Ebola fight; landlords, relatives and foster homes often pushed away children and volunteers who came in contact with the virus. Fear of Ebola treatment centers and their occupants has created a stigma against survivors. Consequently, Liberians often find themselves without work or shelter and 70% of the urban population lives in the slums.

Following the outbreak, the government provided very little aid to help Liberians rebuild their lives. As a result, many children who lost their parents during the outbreak resorted to sleeping on the streets. In Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, children often sleep in the tombs in the cemetery, as they have nowhere else to go, thus creating their label of “cemetery children.”

Nonprofits Making Change in Liberia

Despite the lack of aid that the government provides, many programs from abroad have begun work in Liberia. The current president, George Weah, also championed a new initiative. In 2010, Shelter for Life, a nonprofit development organization, built 1,300 temporary refugee shelters and 10 community buildings. Shelter for Life also provided micro-loans to struggling farmers in order to help rebuild and jumpstart the community.

Shelter Afrique, the Liberian National Housing Authority and President Weah signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2019 to provide affordable housing, with facilities, to Liberian citizens. The pro-poor housing initiative will create more opportunities for Liberians to buy and retain homes. The initiative creates more dwellings on the lower end of the market, increasing affordability to combat homelessness. Data shows that Liberia has a housing shortage of 512,000 units, emphasizing the need for more homes.

Homelessness in Liberia is beginning to be a priority for its government; however, Liberia can not accomplish this alone. Foreign aid from the United States will create homes for families and take orphaned children off the streets.

Alyssa Hogan
Photo: Flickr