Ebola Outbreak in Liberia Brings Water Access

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Liberia’s civil war, which ended 15 years ago, claimed 200,000 lives and corrupted the West-African country’s basic services, including water supply. Since this political upheaval and civil conflict, Liberia has struggled to provide their citizens with access to clean water and meet other sanitary standards. These conditions only seemed to worsen amidst the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

A Lack of Water Access

Prior to the Ebola outbreak, the country held a high mortality rate. A staggering 18 percent of these deaths were caused by waterborne illnesses such as malaria and cholera. In 2012, a World Bank study found E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination, in 58 percent of water sources in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. This finding was partly due to the scarcity of handwashing and bathing facilities, which were destroyed when the civil conflict wiped out Liberia’s water pipe infrastructure.

Following the conclusion of the civil war, most Liberians were left without access to running water. With unkept promises from the government and difficulty implementing restoration plans, even hospitals and healthcare facilities had dry taps in the years before the Ebola epidemic.

Ebola Outbreak Spurs Response

In 2014, change came. While the raging Ebola outbreak in Liberia struggled to be maintained, healthcare professionals, community volunteers and international organizations pledged to address the water crisis. Access to clean running water meant more handwashing, better bathing facilities and a stronger chance in the fight to prevent further spreading of the Ebola virus, which killed 11,300 Liberians and infected more than 28,500.

With the help of the Ministry of Health, dispenser taps filled with water and chlorine were stationed outside of Ebola treatment units. Since health professionals believed that these dispensers and sanitation centers were improving the condition of those infected with the Ebola virus, the water dispensers, some even equipped with soap rather than chlorine, were placed throughout cities, restaurants and marketplaces.

The Ebola outbreak gained international attention in a way Liberia’s water crisis never had. Outside aid from countries like the United States contributed to the rebuilding of Liberia’s pipe infrastructure to provide access to water and stop the Ebola epidemic from spreading to other countries. Seeing the connection in access to clean water and the decline in confirmed cases of Ebola, the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) began restoring piped water to homes and businesses, even in the most populated cities like Monrovia. USAID also gave three water plants to LWSC, bringing more than 50,000 people access to running water.

Results of the Response

Only 6 years ago, the World Bank stated that for every four people in Liberia, one is without access to clean water. The rebuilding process to bring the country running water has been slow. However, since the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, thousands of Liberian homes and businesses have been provided with running water for the first time in 20 years.

Today, Liberia’s National Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is more active than ever, and a portion of the foreign aid given to help rebuild the country’s broken infrastructure stayed following the last confirmed patient’s negative Ebola test. Organizations like UNICEF and USAID continue to bring Liberia sanitation centers, funds to fix water pipes, faucet filters and other supplies to bring this country the basic necessity of water.

-Haley Newlin

Photo: Flickr

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