There has been increased international attention about concerns of climate change within Liberia. This small tropical nation in West Africa is not only home to about 3.5 million people, but also to one of the most diverse rain forests on the planet[1,2]. This vast landscape of flora and fauna has for the last six years slowly arisen from the ashes of a fiery 14 years of civil conflict that also left much of the nation’s infrastructure in ruins. Liberians have subsisted for the last two decades without publicly management systems for electricity, potable water and waste management. Without access to the basic life essentials due to rampant unemployment, many citizens are vulnerable to food insecurity, and poverty-related health and safety issues. In recognition of such human suffering, climate change policy-making has been broadened to include how changes in the environment impact human lives in developing nations, and how adaption and mitigation policies that protect it can be a means to reduce poverty.
The realities of environmental changes or global warming is being seen and felt by every nation on the planet. Usually the areas where the humans sustain the most impact are in developing nations leaving them homeless and relying on international aid for food, medical and shelter. For example, the 2009 rainy season has taken its toll on 16 West African countries due to widespread flooding from heavy torrential rains that has affected approximately 600,000 people. So far, 159 people have died mostly from Sierra Leone. In some areas like Burkina Faso this has been the worst flooding in 90 years. West Africa’s displacement and casualty rate is nearing the reported data from 2007 with 800,000 people affected and 300 died. Fears are looming that more heavy rain will fall on waterlogged areas causing more destruction (Basu).
This article will narrow the focus on one West African Country—Liberia. It will examine noticeable climate changes and their impacts within this tropical nation, domestic and international efforts to address these changes through policy making, and the future outlook of Liberia in protecting their entrusted environment.
The information gathered for this article comes from various sources, but mostly through climate change workshops. This writer has participated in three workshops (listed below) that were all held in Liberia on climate change that centered on making the nation carbon neutral by 2050. These workshops shared various programs for reducing carbon emissions in the energy, forestry and agriculture sectors and paying particular attention to Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) related to these conservation efforts.
- March 23-27 Conservation International (CI): Forest Carbon Project Course
- May 14 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy (LLS) Workshop
- June 24-26 United Nations Development Programme-Liberia (UNDP) and Environment Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA): National Inter-Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Change
Participants included both international and local stakeholders—scientists, conservationists, government officials, NGO representatives, educators, and rural citizens—committed to seeking equitable solutions for Liberia’s changing environment as they relate to global climate concerns.
Climate Change Impact on Liberia
On a global scale, Liberia’s contribution to the greenhouse effect is negligible. Nevertheless, within the borders of nations like Liberia, noticeable indicators demonstrate serious changes in landscape and weather patterns. This evidence proves that Liberia can no longer ignore the national issue of climate change. One such indicator of change is the reduction of its rainforest from 90% coverage of land mass in 1959 to less than 50% today. Deforestation has occurred, in part, from some 960,000 trees being felled each year for cooking and heating purposes. Firewood and charcoal are primary energy sources for 99% of the population (Koffa, 8).
A second indicator of change is how Liberia is slowly losing coastal land to global warming and development of these wetlands for economic reasons. Rising global temperatures are raising sea levels and encroaching on the shores. Increasing human activities are also adversely affecting the coastal region. Sand mining for construction purpose is a major contributor to coastal erosion because low lying areas have suffered increased flooding during the last few rainy seasons. An example is Monrovia’s Sinkor District in 2007. Additionally the destruction of mangrove swamps for residential development has diminished the natural protection they provide from the flooding by ocean storm surges of the habitat of some endangered aquatic species.
A third indicator of change is that the rainy season begins later each year and lasts for a shorter period of time. This is creating water shortages during the dry season in prime agriculture areas such as Lofa County and heightening concerns of desertification due to high levels of deforestation in the area. Previously, the rainy season has been considered April/May through October/November. This year the rainy season made its official debut in June. The normal torrential rains can occur less often but more intensive. In the first month alone, many people living in zinc or mat (thatch-palm) houses in swamp zones near suburban areas like Paynesville and other coastal regions were left without shelter when raging flood waters washed away their ramshackle dwellings.
Additional, human activities have increased Liberia’s contribution to green house gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from the high use of fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. First are the generators producing electricity for homes and businesses, because permanent public facilities[14,15] such as the hydro-power plants were destroyed during the civil war. Many diesel generators in operation produce more harmful NOx emissions than gasoline (Eubanks, 270). No regulation yet exists to ensure that these machines are properly maintained.
Secondly, CO2 emissions from the increasing number of private and commercial vehicles clogging the streets and roads of overcrowded Monrovia are seriously affecting the air quality. About one-third of Liberia’s population now resides in the capital city. Many vehicles also operate on diesel fuel and their proper maintenance is presently unregulated. Driving along the congested roadways of Monrovia metro area means breathing in harmful particulates contained in clouds of dark gray smoke spewed out by these unmaintained cars and trucks.
Liberia is not solely responsible for its GHG problem. Over the past few years, many donated cars have arrived from the United States that are often neither fuel [gas] efficient nor environmentally friendly. These donations are directly related to the rise of U.S. gas prices and decline in book values. Many U.S. car owners receive more cash value from their old vehicle by donating it to charity as a tax deduction. This leaves Liberia as the dumping ground for unwanted U.S. vehicles, which then pollute the air or are abandoned along the roadside for the lack of spare parts available within this nation.
Mitigation and Adaption Policies
Liberia is experiencing several environmental changes that need to be addressed and managed through proper mechanisms. The main focus has been on policies of mitigation and adaptation for the forestry, energy and agriculture sectors. Said policies are intended to provide self-sustaining opportunities, primarily for rural communities since their poverty conditions are more acute than urban areas. This article summarizes, sector by sector, how this will help Liberia achieve carbon neutral status by 2050 while promoting its Poverty Reduction Strategy from the National Inter-Ministerial Dialogue (NIMD).
The main goal of the forestry sector policy is to promote sustainable forest management (SFM). In recent years Liberia has formulated policies that ensure preservation of forest lands. In 2007, one of these policy reforms the Government of Liberia implemented was the National Forest Management Strategy (NFMS) that is divided in zones known as the “3Cs”—Community, Conservation and Commercial (Koffa, 6). The government commissioned the Forest Development Authority (FDA) to regulate these zones. The primary objective for preservation is to allocate and manage Liberia’s remaining 4.39 million hectares of forest within these three zones or departments. The following is brief description of the purpose for each zone:
- Commercial Department: To restart and regulate forest activity in accordance to Liberia’s laws, FDA authorities, and National Forest Policy sustainability objectives. The goal of commercial forestry is to develop it potential to provide Liberia with significant social and economic benefits.
- Community Department: To assist communities in realizing the benefits of forest resources and managing forest resources in a sustainable manner since trees and forests have always been an integral part of rural community livelihoods.
- Conservation Department: To conserve Liberia’s forest biodiversity and ecological services by regulating wildlife consumption and managing the current protected areas of Sapo National Park and Nimba Nature Reserve that covers 4% of Liberia’s forest area. Additionally, to create the National Protected Area Network that will increase the current two areas through Liberia’s pledge to the Convention on Biological Diversity to “set aside at least 10% of the land area for Strict Protection and 30% of the land for protection and multiple-use for partial protection.
In addition to strategies for the 3Cs, the following mitigation policy options have been created (Koffa, 7):
- Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)—(by using community forests as carbon pools through protection and sustainable management of existing forests).
- Enhancing carbon sinks through increasing the sequestration rate in existing and new forests.
- Providing wood fuels as a substitute for fossil fuels (biofuel plantations for fossil fuel substitute).
- Providing wood products for more energy intensive materials (gasification, etc.)
The primary objective in the energy sector for climate change mitigation is to put in force a requirement for a reduction in fossil fuel consumption for electricity generation and include the addition of appropriate renewable energy sources that can produce and supply electricity. Energy is vital to Liberia’s economic development since it serves key areas like agriculture, communications, education, electricity, fisheries, healthcare, transportation, tourism, and other essential areas (Goanue 6-7). By introducing cleaner and more efficient energy sources, Liberia will reduce harmful CO2 emissions and supply more consumers with these affordable options.
In 2008, the Government of Liberia with the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy formulated a National Energy Policy (NEP). Complying with international efforts toward climate change mitigation, Liberia established the following NEP targets using 2009 as the base year (Goanue, 9):
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by the energy sector in 2015.
- Improving energy efficiency by 20% by 2015.
- Raising the share of renewable energy being used for electricity production from current level of 10% to 30% by 2015.
- Increasing the level of biofuels in transport fuel to 5% by 2015.
- Implementing a long-term strategy to make Liberia a carbon neutral country, and eventually less carbon dependent by 2050.
Agriculture is Liberia’s main industry, employing over 70% of the nation’s labor force and contributing over 20% to its GDP. While over two-thirds of Liberians’ livelihoods depend on agriculture and other related activities, nearly 81% of this rural population is moderately vulnerable (41%) or highly vulnerable (40%) to food insecurity. The remaining populace is 11% food insecure and 9% food secure. These indicators bring up another alarming concern that 39% of children under five years are suffering from chronic malnutrition (Topor, 6).
It is the goal of the agriculture sector to create adaption policies that will increase opportunities to strengthen food security and decrease emissions of greenhouse gases by reducing deforestation, ensuring better land-use planning, and introducing state of the art agricultural practices (Topor, 4).
Currently, Liberia’s agricultural system is experiencing the impacts of climate change such as reduced soil moisture, shifts in temperature, erratic rainfall and heat waves. These changes have induced decreased crop yields, increased competition for limited resources, caused human migration in northwest and central regions of Liberia, and increased the spread of pests that caused havoc earlier this year when caterpillars destroyed several crops in northern region (Topor, 4).
The issue of climate change in the agriculture sector is a double-edge sword, because it is both a contributor of GHG and casualty of rising temperatures and shifting weather patterns. There is an urgent need for proper polices and changes otherwise Liberia will see an increase of families facing food insecurity, and this will further aggravate poverty by putting up to 80,000 children at risk of dying from malnutrition (Topor, 6).
Therefore, Liberia’s House of Representatives signed and approved the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) plan in 2008 that includes the following adaption strategies (Topor, 9-10):
- Intensification and diversification of farming practices that include adapting low land cultivation (swamp rice production) rather than current slash and burn method and adopting new farming techniques and technologies.
- Water management system to improve the efficiency of water use for crop production in areas that have experienced cycles of water scarcity since the early 1980s, and rehabilitate existing water harvesting and irrigation systems.
- Reduce deforestation by implementing a practice of agro-forestry/afforestation/intercropping that encourages planting of fast growing nitrogen fixing tree species to improve soil fertility and minimize land degradation.
Liberia’s Way Forward
The Liberian people are still reeling from the destruction and emotional traumas from many years of violent civil conflict. However as a nation, it must remain on course with implementing its climate change policies and strategies in combating this recent threat to their livelihoods and overall existence. The changes cited in this article relating to environment and weather patterns have been noticed and discussed by most Liberians. Therefore, the undisputed facts and evidence of climate change in Liberia can no longer be ignored, because these adverse conditions are not going to improve on their own.
Liberia is one of many nations that has been divided by cultural, tribal, religious or economic differences. However, these differences have no bearing on one essential fact that we all share this one planet. This global concern for our collective environment could be the opportunity to change the course of human history by putting our differences aside and working together to save the one place we all call home, our planet Earth.
For Liberia, this could be the ideal opportunity to lift this nation out of the ruins of war and poverty. The state of the environment in Liberia is directly related to economic development and poverty reduction. Liberia can ensure their own existence by combining nation and peace building initiatives to protect its precious habitant and ecosystem that has been forever entrusted with their people. Liberians need to forgo their differences and join hands in working together to clean up and preserve the sacred beauty of their naturally rich nation. By partnering with the international community, who are committed to conservation and cleaner/efficient energy sources, Liberia can access technical and financial support for job creation in all sectors allowing more people the opportunity to move out of poverty. By taking these efforts in saving their beloved nation, Liberians can create a new chapter for lasting peace and economic stability.
1 Liberia contains 4.5 million hectares of lowland tropical forest, half of all remaining forest within the Upper Guinea forests of West Africa. These forests are immensely important for their biological diversity, containing the last long-term viable populations of several threatened endemic species. These forests also provide important ecosystem services and hold the potential to help reduce high levels of poverty in the country. Conservational International file:///learn/forests/Pages/projects.aspx
2 The Upper Guinean Forest zone extends across the borders of eastern Sierra Leone, southeastern Guinea, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and eastern Togo. It is considered one of the world’s priority conservation areas due to its rich biodiversity and the world’s highest diversity of mammals. The overall forest ecosystem covers around 420,000 km2 but estimations from the Conservation Priority-Setting Workshop in 1999 suggest a forest loss of almost four-fifths of the original extent (Desk Study, 14).
3 The Mount Coffee hydro-power plant (64 MW) along the St. Paul River and Yandohum micro-hydro power station (30 KW) in Lofa Country were destroyed during the war, but the Firestone hydro-power plant (4 MW) in Harbel is still in operation. (Goanue, 11).
4 In 1991, the daily treated water production for Monrovia amounted to 61,000 m3/day. After the war daily treated water production based on 2004 figures is approximately 5 800 m3/day (Desk Study, 27).
5 The only functioning sewage treatment plant is in Monrovia, but it was only intended for a population of 130,000 people thus it is unable to manage the current population of over 1 million people (Desk Study, 28).
6 Food insecurity means not having adequate food production to meet the needs of the people, access to food supplies, or ability to provide a balanced diet to reduce malnutrition in children (Fact Sheet).
7 Liberia’s Poverty Related Strategy (PRS) includes four pillars: 1) Enhancing National Security; 2) Revitalizing the Economy; 3) Strengthening Governance and Rule of Law; and 4) Rehabilitating Infrastructure and Basic Social Services—Education, Healthcare, and Water/Sanitation (At Work Together).
8 There is no known data that can estimate with any degree of accuracy the rate of forest reduction in Liberia. (Koffa, 5)
9 “Many coastal and marine environments in Liberia have suffered rapid deterioration due to a combination of increased population pressure and uncontrolled economic activities (Wiles, 12).” “It is projected that about 95km2 of land in the coastal zone of Liberia will be inundated as a result of one meter sea level rise (Wiles, 13).” Bushrod Island, Buchanan, Cestos City and Robertsport are areas on the coast where erosion is most severe (Wiles, 14).
10 The expansion of the savannah ecosystem for rice production predominately in Foya District, Lofa County, is creating the concern for the threat of desertification in Liberia (Topor, 9).
11 According to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan of Liberia (2004), CO2 emissions represent 50-60 percent of the local greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere in Liberia, of which the primary source comes from consumption of petroleum products. (Goanue, 6).
12 According to the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) in 2008 approximately 65,279,917 US gallons of refined petroleum products consisting of primarily gasoline and diesel fuel were imported to Liberia. From trend analysis conducted by LPRC from 2000-2008 consumption has more than doubled within this period—in 2003 approximately 20,000 US gallons were consumed. (Goanue, 12).
13 According the 2006 State of the Environment Report there was an estimate of about 45,000 small and medium privately operated power generating units, concentrated mainly in Monrovia.
14 According to the NEP/2008, the Emergency Power Program (EPP)—launched in 2006—was designed to re-establish public power supply by the Liberia Electricity Company producing a system composed of 9.6 MW diesel generation, 80 km of transmission and distribution network serving over 2,500 Monrovian customers and about 1,000 street lights within the first half of 2009 (Goanue, 11).
15 According to the NEP/2008, the national electricity grid, which had total installed capacity of 191 NW of power by 1989, currently generates only 9.6 MW (Goanue, 7).
16 If rebuilt the Mount Coffee Power Plant along the St. Paul River has the potential to produce about 824 MW compared to its pre-war capacity of 64 MW (Goanue, 11).
17 National Forest Management Strategy Objective (NFMS, 13). Commercial Department (NFMS, 20), Community Department (NFMS, 22), and Conservation Department (NFMS, 23).
18 A prediction that Stella Subah, nutrition adviser at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, cited in article in the New Democrat in 2009.
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