MONROVIA, Liberia — Why is Liberia poor? The answer is long and nuanced, the multifaceted causes are deeply ingrained in the system of governance and socioeconomic ecosystem. However, one of the most widely spread root causes for nation-wide poverty is violent conflict. This is certainly the case for Liberia, the West-African nation originally founded in 1821 by former American slaves under the American Colonization Society.
Founded on pillars of liberty and freedom, its recent history is marred by a coup in the 1980s, which followed with years of civil war, a repressive government under Charles Taylor until 2003 and then a serious outbreak of Ebola in 2014. It is only now that Liberia can begin its road to recovery.
Amongst the lowest rungs in the Human Development Index (HDI), Liberia struggles with widespread poverty in part a result of unstable and limited infrastructure and services, which are direct collateral damage from the 14-year long civil war. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 64 percent of Liberians are forced to live under the poverty line with 1.3 million living in extreme poverty. Considering violent conflict, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are uprooted and forced to migrate either internally or externally.
This type of constant search for refuge does not allow for a reliable agricultural sector to be established, leaving thousands hungry.
Outside the confines of violent conflict, the Liberian government is forced to tackle the pressing need to establish an agricultural sector to boost food production rather than depending on imports and increasing the risk of economic shocks. At this point, food insecurity still affects over 41 percent of the population.
So again, why is Liberia poor? It still faces repercussions of years of internal conflict. Despite the myriad of political, social and economic issues Liberia still faces, its push towards a more secure and sustainable future should not be overlooked, nor should the international effort.
The WFP seeks to reach at least 624,000 Liberians over five year period to assist in food and medical care. Its overarching efforts and investments at the bottom tier aim to strengthen the foundation for a gradual capacity building at the Liberian Government’s federal level. At the civil society level, the WFP has reach in nine counties and over 700 schools by providing daily meals for primary school children.
In an effort to keep girls in school, the WFP has also begun providing take-home rations of food contingent on an 80 percent attendance rate. These creative measures are only a few of the many efforts the WFP has made in Liberia.
In even remote parts of Liberia, the social stigma of medical disabilities wane as more specialist medical centers are set up to bring physical and psychological awareness to those with disabilities and their communities. A leprosy hospital in Ganta, Liberia is a good example of the slow but steady medical improvements being made. Medical aid groups for clubfoot, such as MiracleFeet and Cure, are making their rounds across the country and also building relationships and passing knowledge to civilians.
Understanding history and culture are vital in any movement to mitigate change and establish peace and security. However, rather than merely asking the question, why is Liberia poor, the question should be focused on how can Liberia be pulled out of poverty.
It goes beyond just establishing infrastructure bolstered by foreign aid, it is a matter of ensuring teachers, doctors and workers are available, well-trained and are advocates of sustaining the steps towards improvements.
– Sydney Nam