Facing economic challenges in recovery from civil war and Ebola, Liberia is a global biodiversity hotspot where a better future for its people depends on valuing the country's precious natural wealth.
The name Liberia comes from the Latin meaning “Land of the Free”. Liberia is a small coastal country in West Africa bordering Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. The land area covers 111,369 square kilometers. Liberia has about 600 kilometers of coastline on the Atlantic coast with the capital, Monrovia, a port city. Liberia has been considered a global biodiversity hotspot and is home to some of the last populations of species such as chimpanzees, forest elephants and leopards. Endangered species in Liberia have been hunted for the bushmeat trade, further threatening their numbers. Slash and burn agriculture and illegal logging leading to deforestation also threaten endangered species and their habitats. Liberia is still in recovery from the effects of a civil war and Ebola epidemic which left much of the population below the poverty line and relying on subsistence agriculture to meet their needs. The dependence on subsistence agriculture makes many in Liberia vulnerable to environmental changes and availability of natural resources. By protecting these resources Liberia is bettering the future for its population.
Much of Liberia is comprised of flat to rolling coastal plains with mangroves and swamps along its coastline. With 600 kilometers of coastline, fisheries and ports are important to the nation’s livelihoods. Most of the population lives near the coast and the ocean provides Liberians with 65% of their protein needs. Coastal activities have been threatening mangroves, which operate as nurseries to the young of many species. To the northeast is a rolling plateau and low mountains covered with tropical rainforest. The northeastern rainforest is one of the last strongholds of intact forest in West Africa, home to many endangered and endemic species. Some species rely on Liberia’s forest for survival since it has become home to their remaining populations. Deforestation due to population and poverty pressure has been spreading throughout northeast Liberia, even in the country’s protected areas, affecting many of Liberia's unique species. In these mountains and forested areas iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold and hydropower are harvested, furthering threatening forest protection.
Private Sector and Water Resources
Liberia, like other small countries with growing populations, faces challenges with pollution and environmental sanitation management. During Liberia’s civil war, waste collection services in Monrovia were halted and industrial, as well as household, waste built up. This waste, especially industrial waste, has been affecting natural resources in Liberia, most importantly water resources. Some cases have made headlines, such as Firestone Rubber Plantation’s pollution of rivers in northeast Liberia which caused health issues for the communities and killed off fish populations. Now just 1 in 4 Liberians have access to safe drinking water according to the World Health Organization. During the dry season it is difficult for many Liberians to even access any water and much of the necessary infrastructure is missing. The Government of Liberia, through the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa, will work with private sector companies to monitor their water use and ensure that communities are getting the clean water they need.
Liberia and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa
With the help of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa's Secretariat, Liberia has determined priority areas to achieve the Declaration’s objectives. Liberia has expressed interest in aligning its Poverty Reduction Strategy II with international commitments, integrate environment into policies and ministries and assess the implementation of multilateral environment agreements. The Secretariat is committed to helping the Government of Liberia build capacity in implementing natural capital accounting and the use of GIS for ecosystem monitoring. Liberia has also expressed interest in implementing payment for ecosystem services for water used by industry and engaging the private sector more in issues of sustainability. By taking action to achieving the objectives of the Gaborone Declaration, Liberia will be able to work towards a green-economy and sustainable development.
National Strategies and Poverty Alleviation
The Liberia Environmental Threats and Opportunities Assessment (ETOA) holds environmental data that could be useful for the Gaborone Declaration. As a post-conflict nation there is still a lot of work to be done on natural resource assessments. Some non-profits and multilaterals have completed environmental assessments, like the forest resources mapping exercise completed in partnership with the European Space Agency (2011). In collaboration with the UNEP the Liberian Biodiversity Country Study report was produced, providing a baseline for biodiversity in Liberia. The Government of Liberia recognizes the importance of the environment and natural resources in poverty eradication and so numerous national policies and strategies have integrated the environment. These strategies are a foundation for Gaborone Declaration work.
Natural Capital Accounting
Since its recovery from the civil war, Liberia has had little experience in the way of natural capital accounting. While there seems to be little to no previous work done in this capacity, the Liberian Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services has an Environmental Statistics Section which would be collecting relevant data. With this data and the Secretariat’s help, Liberia will be able to build capacity in this initiative.
Private Sector Partnerships
The Liberian Government has expressed the importance of including the private sector into sustainable development. The country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy II illustrates the need for collaborative effort in sustainable development and the country has shown interest in incorporating the private sector in its efforts on natural capital accounting. Partnerships are expected to be successful in the country.
Image credits, top to bottom: © Conservation International/photo by Bailey Evans; © Conservation International/photo by Bailey Evans; © Conservation International/photo by John Martin
Liberia Quick Facts
The ocean provides Liberians with 65% of their protein needs..
1 in 4
According to the World Health Organization, only 1 out of 4 Liberians has access to safe drinking water.
Approximately 58% of Liberians live within 40 miles of the coast.
Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa Focal Point for Liberia
Mr. Jeremiah Sokan