Liberian children still drink unsafe water amid other sanitation problems

By Kai Toteh/
News Release | December 6, 2013

On the outskirt of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, there is a community that is dominantly young people ranging from babies to 12 years old who drink water from a local well, because their only hand pump was broken two months ago, and no one cares to come to their aid. Help would come after the outbreak of water related diseases, hope not. Poor diet is blamed on poverty or laziness of bread winners, but what if salaries are not enough to provide healthy meals for the children? Adviser Stella Subah at the Health Ministry told IRIN in 2009 malnutrition will kill 74,000 children in Liberia by 2015 if urgent action is not taken.

It is not clear what group of people must make sacrifices for the good of a nation. On the other hand, is it a particular segment of the society that must make sacrifices while others live in luxury? Government and its officials demand precious jewels to make sacrifices for the nation. They are starving as the way of making their sacrifices for the economy to improve. Unfortunately, their sacrifices could mean a bleak future for Liberia. The bleak future could be a misery for the progenies of those who impose on them sacrifices they do not have to make as children.

Not much is discussed about Liberian children in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Instead, power struggle, claims, and counter claims of stealing, dominate their (House and Senate) deliberations. Who gets what incentives and who becomes what are their main agenda. Members of the Executive Branch and lawmakers close their eyes on the malnourished children roaming the streets of Monrovia as they, officials of government drive by in expensive cars and SUVs.

Liberian children are asked to be patient as government is “working out modalities to improve their lives.” Is this a new song? Babies of poor parents must go hungry while adults, including senators, representatives, president, and all government officials fill their bellies. The only strategy used to fight hunger in Liberia, especially malnutrition of children is through handouts from government officials and some opposition members who happen to be Liberia economic maestros.

The future of Liberia lies in the children. Two-thousand and fifteen is one year from now. Seventy five thousand deaths from malnutrition in a country of only four million people is staggering news. The latest statistics is March 19, 2009 from IRIN reports:
Health officials have launched a strategy to tackle hunger in Liberia, where 37 percent of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition.

Chronic malnutrition causes stunting in nearly one-third of Liberian children and leaves one in five underweight, according to Subah. A further seven percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition.

The policy commits the government to improving food security for the majority of Liberians, decreasing dependence in imported foods and boosting education strategies to help prevent malnutrition.

“This policy refocuses on nutrition and puts it where it ought to be – on the higher agenda of the government,” said John Agbor, head of child survival at UNICEF. This is the first nutrition policy the government has developed since the war broke out in 1989, He said.”
“Malnutrition is a major problem here, because all the factors contributing to it still exist,” said UNICEF nutrition specialist Kinday Ndella Samba. “You still have high rate of poverty, poor access to water and sanitation and a lack of health care,” Samba said.

Only 30 professionally trained government medical doctors work are working in Liberia, along with 46 NGO doctors, for a population of 3.3 million, according to report by UNICEF.
Moderate hunger has been endemic in Liberia for years, but thousands of additional people were put at risk of acute malnutrition in 2008 because of rising global food and fuel prices, according to aid agency Action Against Hunger (ACF).

Liberia imports 90 percent of its rice, and prices have not dropped since they shot up to US$35 for a 50-kilogram bag in early 2008 – the average monthly salary for a security guard in the capital Monrovia. Liberians told IRIN 50kg of rice will feed a family of seven for two weeks.

Malnutrition in turn hampers economic growth, with conditions such as anemia and iodine deficiency lowering the country’s economic productivity by $431,000 each year, Subah told IRIN.

“If we want to address the issue, we have to address the underlying factors, such as food security, lack of access to water and sanitation, the failure of most mothers to breastfeed their babies and mothers not taking their babies for regular vaccines,” Subah said.
Improper care and feeding of children stem in part from low education rates and high rates of teenage pregnancy, according to William Dakel, director of local NGO Aid for the Needy Development Program (ANDP).

Forty-six percent of teenage girls are pregnant in Liberia, according to 2007 figures – the latest available. UNICEF says just 39 percent of girls attended primary school in 2007.
Agbor urges donors to maintain support to aid groups and the government to fight chronic malnutrition. “There are still a lot of children out there who need care, and if we have enough funding we can start to integrate aid groups’ work into government facilities, Agbor said.”