Liberia: the huge fight of a small country against poor waste management

Liberia, a sub-Saharan state on Africa’s Atlantic coast, coped with repeated civil wars through the 1990s and early 2000s. Poor governance exacerbated by conflict had devastating impacts on the environment, and poor waste management became an increasing source of public health and environmental concerns. Liberia has enjoyed democratic government since 2005. However, efforts to build stronger governance and management systems to alleviate poverty and build prosperity suffered a major setback with the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola in 2014-15. This also helped the issue of overcoming poor waste management to rocket to the top of public health priorities.

Liberia: the huge fight of a small country against poor waste management

Nearly four years after the Ebola epidemic, solid-waste management remains a significant public health threat in Great Monrovia, especially during the rainy season when raw sewage triggers outbreaks of cholera and diarrhoea. The national Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has been building commitment among the municipalities responsible for managing waste. Although progress is evident, challenges such as the tripling of the urban population during the wars mean that critical infrastructure and sewage systems are embryonic, if in existence at all.

GCCA+ support to Liberia to improve waste management is part of a broader international support effort focusing on the national government. EPA efforts to measure and deal with solid waste include managing the development of priorities, strategies and business-oriented waste management pilot activities for the sector. Some of the focus of GCCA+ support has helped to define how funds secured within the EU-Liberia Climate Change Alliance could be used to deliver climate change mitigation through various solid-waste management approaches. Recycling, composting, energy production from waste, job creation and value added in waste have all been identified as viable options.

The GCCA+ project is also supporting the  establishment of a sectoral measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) system to measure the variety and impact of greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector to support tailored solutions. During the project design phase, it became clear that the best technology would be unable to solve waste management unless upstream waste disposal was integrated into the waste-management life cycle. Eradicating ‘anywhere anytime’ waste disposal requires sustained behavioural change by governments, citizens and private actors based upon new understandings about the impact on their well-being of waste generation, disposal and management.

Developing education programmes to generate buy-in from all stakeholders, local communities and private citizens to generate less waste and dispose of it ‘thoughtfully’ will be an essential counterpoint to realising low-carbon solutions in the long term. Such a buy-in will deliver long-term public health benefits and climate change solutions.

Links: GCCA+ Review of Climate Issues: “The mitigation effect”