Building the “New Monrovia”: The Need to Plan Well and Protect the Environment

On March 26, 2018, barely two months following his inauguration as president of Liberia, Mr. George M. Weah launched two projects, which, if properly implemented, are likely to have significant impact on national development and enhance the quality life of the Liberian people.

City Map of Liberia
City Map of Liberia

During the early part of that day, President Weah broke grounds for the construction of Liberia’s first military hospital, which is expected to be well equipped with modern  facilities and a highly trained medical staff to cater to military and para-military personnel and their families.

The ground-breaking ceremony was followed by his boat-ride tour of Bali Island,  situated in the middle of the Mesurado River in Monrovia, where a 4,000-seat state-of- the-art international conference hall is planned to be constructed.

While mostly AFL personnel and their dependents look on and cheered, President Weah broke grounds for a 200-bedroom military hospital, which will be located at the Edward Benyan Kesselly Military Barracks in Schiefflin, Margibi County.

The site of the proposed hospital is on the main highway from the Roberts International Airport (RIA) to the Liberian capital Monrovia, directly opposite the main Schiefflin Barracks. A large billboard containing photo of the architectural design of what is set to be a teaching hospital to train men and women in arms in various medical disciplines, give motorists and passers-by a view of a beautiful structure that would enhance the modern architectural outlook of the rapidly-developing Monrovia-RIA corridor.

More importantly, given the urgency to develop Liberia’s broken health system, the need to construct the military hospital could not be more pressing. A military hospital, well equipped and funded, with qualified staff, would greatly help to enhance the quality of life of the men and women in arms and their families, as well as the Liberian population in general.

Even though the cost of the proposed military hospital has not been made public, its establishment provides an opportunity to plan well toward the future, in terms of the human, financial and material resources being harnessed to ensure that Liberians have access to first-rate medical services.

Flag of Liberia

  Flag of Liberia

Since the end of the civil crises, Liberia has struggled with a health care system so dysfunctional that many people continue to die from preventable and curable diseases, such as malaria, diarrhea, typhoid, pressure, heart attack, among others. Due to the dire state of Liberia’s health care system, many Liberians who can afford the cost travel to Ghana for better medical treatment.

The Ebola epidemic that began in 2014, which caused the death of over 4,800 victims and collapse of Liberia’s health system, underscore the pressing need to plan and institute a modern health care system that would ensure accessible and affordable high quality treatment for the people and effectively respond to any possible future epidemic outbreak.

Development of Liberia’s health care system must be undertaken in line with the institution of policies and programs to safeguard the environment. In the stride to develop a modern Liberia, care must be taken to avoid environmental degradation, which could lead to natural and man-made disasters.

This leads to the other topic under consideration, which relates to President Weah’s plan to transform Bali Island into a modern city. Speaking during his visit on the island, President Weah said he intends to transform Bali Island into the “New Monrovia” commencing with the construction of the 4,000-seat state-of- the-art international conference center and other standardized structures.

President Weah indicates the Actual Location of Bali Island on the Map of Monrovia

   President George Weah Identifies Site of the New Capitol Monrovia on Map

According to the Liberian government, construction of the international conference center will be funded by the government of India, under the bilateral relationship subsisting between both countries.
Situated on the Mesurado River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean just a few miles away, Bali Island and its surrounding areas are naturally beautiful and picturesque. Unfortunately, the breath-taking view of the island and the entire Mesurado River waterfront have been overshadowed by heap of garbage and stench.

Speaking on the island, President Weah said while he was a child “growing up in Clara Town, Bushrod Island, playing just across the shores of the Stockton Creek, I often looked into the direction of the Bali Island, viewed an undeveloped tourist attraction.” Although located on a naturally beautiful riverfront, Clara Town is a slum community.

Whenever he gazed from his community towards the Bali Island, President Weah said: “I wondered what was going on there. I did not know anyone who knew what was going on there. There was no road, no bridge, or ferry to get over here.”
According to the Liberian Leader, his dream to see the island develop began from that moment. He noted: “From here I began to see a New City of Monrovia emerging from the ashes of the Old City of Monrovia.” He explained how he envisioned skyscrapers, office buildings, shopping malls, banks, among others, on the island.

President Weah’s vision and plan to build a “New Monrovia” are notable. However, in the process of national development, the Liberian government and people must focus on what is called “smart growth,” which is an approach that covers a range of development and conservation strategies that protect the health of the people and natural environment, and make the communities more attractive, economically stronger, and more socially diverse.

President Weah Tours Bali Island for the contruction of modern Conference Center.jpg

 Liberian President Tours Site of the New Capital Monrovia

The transformation of Bali Island into a modern city community must reflect a well-developed plan to ensure sustainable progress and to enhance the quality of life of the people. Equally important, a thorough environmental impact assessment must be made to ensure that the area is not exposed to environmental degradation that could cause natural disaster in the future.

Under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands – the inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources – Liberia, which is a signatory to the convention, has five sites designated as wetlands of international importance. Liberia’s Ramsar-designated wetlands sites, which provide a favorable habitat for a variety of plant, animal and marine species, include the following: Mesurado Wetlands in Monrovia, Marshall Wetlands in Margibi County, Kpatawee Wetlands in Bong County, and Gbedin Wetlands in Nimba County.

Bali Island is located in the Mesurado Wetlands, which according to a Ramsar report, provides a favorable habitat and feeding grounds for several species of birds, and it also hosts the vulnerable African dwarf crocodile, the Nile crocodile, and the African sharp-nosed crocodile, as well as mangrove already being devastated due to human activities.

According to the Ramsar report, the Mesurado Wetlands is already facing environmental degradation as a result of being used for firewood collection, as a dumping site, for car washing, as well as threat from pollution.

There are also reports that other wetlands and mangrove in Monrovia and its environs are being destroyed rapidly due to poor urban planning. Widespread unregulated construction in wetlands and water channels, cutting down mangrove forests for firewood, and turning drainage into dump sites, are some of the challenges threatening the future wellbeing of the environment and bio-diversity in Liberia.

More wetlands and mangrove forests across Liberia are reported to be increasingly impacted negatively by human activities. Even more disturbing are reports of the continued use of dynamite, which is exploded in the water to kill fish and other marine species. There is an urgent need in Liberia to regulate the use of dynamite, which is clearly seen to have a destructive impact on the environment and bio-diversity.

President Weah Disembarks Liberia Coast Guard Boat when he left Bali Island (1)

                    President Weah and Entourage Disembark from Coast Guard Boat

What was seen as a manifestation of government’s commitment to the preservation of wetlands in Liberia, President George Weah issued a proclamation declaring February 2, 2018, as “World Wetlands Day,” which was observed throughout Liberia as a working holiday. This year’s observance was held under the theme: “Wetlands for A Sustainable Urban Future” and under the national theme: Save the Wetlands, Save Our Future.”

According to the proclamation, the observance was intended to raise public awareness and highlight the vital roles of healthy wetlands in reducing the impacts of extreme events such as flood, drought, and cyclones on the communities and to help build resilience to such conditions.

It is hoped that the government would back words with actions through increased support to empower Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce environmental regulations, as well as institute public awareness programs on environmental conservation.

Through proper urban planning and adherence to environmental regulations, Monrovia would escape environmental disasters similar to the 2017 mudslides in Freetown, capital of neighboring Sierra Leonean, which killed over 1,140 people and left widespread infrastructural destruction.

Following several days of torrential rainfall, devastating floods and mudslides occurred in and around Freetown on August 14, 2017. According to reports, the destructive behavior of the mudslides was exacerbated by a number of factors, including poor infrastructure, cutting down of trees, and ineffective drainage system.

Let’s hope that in the construction of the military hospital and the transformation of Bali Island, care would be seriously taken to plan well for Liberia’s future and to protect the environment.

By Our Correspondent

West African Journal Malazine