World Water Day

Monrovia post Ebola: The quest for clean water and youth employment

In the lead up to World Water Day, a new programme to strengthen the capacity of local communities in Liberia to improve sanitation highlights the importance of access to clean water.

Feature | 23 March 2016
MONROVIA, Liberia (ILO News) – David Wolo worries about finding fresh water for his family. “The water from the pipes is not good, because these pipes are outdated… you can see the sediment in the water… you can see all sorts of things in it.”

David Wolo, village elder: "The water and sanitation business is very difficult."
Village elder Wolo, 67, has lived in Clara Town, a deprived community in the Liberian capital, since 1979. In that time he has seen the water situation deteriorate: “The water and sanitation business is very difficult. At first we had full pipe borne water [services] but now, it is difficult to get water. [You have to go] four kilometres … five kilometres to get clean water.”

Clara town lies less than two kilometres east of West Point, the slum community that became a flash point during the Ebola crisis, when Liberian authorities imposed a local quarantine in an effort to limit the spread of the disease. While the threat of Ebola has lifted, water borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery remain an endemic threat throughout these low lying suburbs on the city’s fringes.

WASH – Better hygiene, more work

As part of the post Ebola recovery strategy, the ILO is collaborating with UNICEF, the UN-Habitat country office and Monrovian authorities to roll out a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) pilot project in Clara Town, one of four communities identified to benefit, subject to continued funding.

Titled Upgrading Water and Sanitation Systems Incorporating Skills-Based Training and Employment for Youth in Ebola Affected Slum Communities, the ILO project is expected to expand basic sanitation, improve environmental conditions and hygiene, and promote youth employment in the slum communities of Monrovia.

To promote community engagement with the pilot a two day launch and workshop was held in early March in Clara Town with invited local community leaders, women’s groups, youth representatives and others, gathered to learn the objectives and expectations of the project, as well as discussing the employment opportunities it will offer.

Addressing the meeting, Varney M Kiahon, Deputy Commissioner for the Clara Town community, explained that the Monrovian supply and sanitation services were initially designed for a population of between 500 000 and 750 000, but after many years of civil war and the Ebola crisis the system is running at only a quarter of the original capacity, and for a population now closer to 4 million.

The wait for water

For the 74,000 inhabitants of Clara Town, cutting waiting times for clean water is a key demand. According to Bestman Toe, President of the Slum Dwellers Association of Liberia, there are just 21 taps to serve clean water to the population, meaning that those lucky enough to live close to a tap have reduced waiting times. “Those further back,” he said, “cannot get access to them. Even if they do it takes almost an hour to fill one jerry can to take home.”

Bestman Toe, President, Slum Dwellers Association of Liberia: "Students are not able to get water before school."
“It means that students are not able to get water before going to school… and the women themselves, when they come to get water it takes up the time they need to take care of the home.”

An important element of the WASH programme is the ILO’s focus on a labour intensive approach with skills training in project implementation.

“By engaging young people from the start and by offering work and the chance to build their skills and confidence we can increase their chances of future employment and their ability to create business opportunities,” said Salif A. Massalay, the ILO’s National Project Coordinator.

It’s an approach that Bestman Toe supports: “It’s in the interest of the community, especially the youth, who are the bulk [of people] facing high unemployment rates … with this project there will be skills training of several kinds and this will also empower them to have a job in the future. And that will give a clear sign to the rest of this community of Clara Town.”

Joseph D. Kanneh: "[The project] could benefit me a lot."
One of the young men attending the conference was Joseph D. Kanneh. He tells ILO News that for him, there are other important priorities for the community, “water is important. Toilets are important, yes. But the key things that are missing are bridges … bridges that can help people physically transport the water they need. People these days have to spend 10 hours getting water… 14 hours.” He added that he welcomed the potential opportunities for training and the project’s broader aims, “it could benefit me a lot, because I will be trained on how to provide clean water… also, it would [reduce] all of these sicknesses that usually affect residents.”

As well as improving water and sanitation quality, the ILO programme will also focus on the handling of solid waste management. Currently most solid waste in the community is often left on the ground in bags, or pushed into the sea.

For David Wolo, change in the way Clara Town handles its rubbish and its water supply will be good news: “This programme is obviously needed to make sure the community is clean, make sure the city is clean. With a healthy environment; there are healthy people.”