Liberia is at a Brink of Irreversible Environmental/Ecological Impotency

Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D (December 20th 2004)

"..Our national relationship suffers when the best brains and government are heavy-footed and refuse to come together. Unless there is a radical metamorphosis in which Liberians “mount wings like eagles”, the intruders and peace agents will be only concerned with prolonging the civil conflict, diamond deals, deforestation and sexual exploitation. They are not only hell-bent on plundering our forests and natural wealth, but wrecking the whole natural order: deforestation, clearing land, killing animals and other hidden assets. The uncontrolled squandering of our natural resources goes unchecked even though resources such as forests, rivers, marines, diamonds, wildlife, gold and soil, once used or exhausted, can never be restored. ..."

Since the dawn of creation, there has always been interaction between human beings and the environment. This was in certain circumstances a one-way action (man effecting the environment) while in other cases it was an interaction (such as our parentage whose interaction with the earth’s “fullness” resulted in their working together to gather food for both man and domesticated animals to eat). Those cultures that respect nature (such as the pre-Liberian culture), treating her with understanding, have exacted only a small environmental impact. Those cultures, however, preach domination of nature, imposing their human will upon the environment, have reaped the havoc of calamities that affect humanity's physical, spiritual and mental health, as well as humanity's social well being.

As the Liberian society looks forward to the new coming sweeping moon and more hopeful future in 2005 and a 4th republic, our nation must be reminded that the environment is in a grave danger unless an appropriate or effective and efficient integrated system of environmental management is implemented. It is against this background that this article is written to make a clarion call to action for doing it right this time around”. To give you a better picture of this imminent danger of environmental disaster, let me begin by telling you where Liberia is coming from, where the country now is, and where I think it ought to be headed. Unquestionably, Liberia ’s environment is no longer that wonderment of colossal geological formations of God's creation that once stirred in the face of Liberians and non-Liberians. It is being lost to deforestation, pollution, extinction of treasure trove of species, habitats, and the situation is likely to plunge the nation into a future civil war when our population increases and land becomes scarce.

Liberia Environment Before

It is not a secret that Liberia is straddled in the high rainfall area of West Africa , uniquely bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the south, Sierra Leone to the west, Guinea to the north and Ivory Coast to the east. Equally important, Liberia is a relatively sparsely populated country compared to other sub-Saharan African nations. With its high regional rainfall, Liberia is crisscrossed by rivers and lakes, which encompasses 15 river basins, abundant streams and four types of coastal wetlands such as the Mesurado, Lake Shepherd, Bafu Bay and inland riverine like Marshall (Du and Farmington basins) and the Cestos-Senkwehn, Kpatawe (Kromah, 2001). These bodies of water were not only striking coral formations but were often scenes of natural attractiveness that makes Liberia the number one waterfalls nation in Africa and the world. The respondent beauty of our nation is due to the rainfall and temperature in Liberia which determine the growth of vegetation, which shared incentives are slowing down soil erosion and enriching soil with nutrients from decomposing organic material or humus. The ample vegetation of tropical forest environments produces large quantities of humus, which is concentrated on the forest floor. In the savanna grasslands of Liberia , humus extends to a greater depth in the soil to support rice and cassava growth, our staple food.

Liberia was also once dominated by a central spine of coastal plains, plateau, rolling hills mountains and range: the Bong Range , Putu Range , and Mount Nimba (Wuteve, the tallest and source of the Ya and Cavalla Rivers), with many peaks over ( 5,748 feet) withglacis ambient. Other mountains that shaped the geographical landscape of Liberia are Mt. Bee of Gibi and Mt. Wologisi , the 2nd highest peak in Liberia Ninety percent of these mountains were covered by tropical rainforests, and the remainder is made up of delta plains, flat savannah, grassland and six special species of mangroves in the likes of Rhizophora harrisonnia, the mangle and Avicinnia Africana (Kromah, 2001). An estimated 200 species of plant and animal are native to the Mount Nimba ecosystems. ( The principal rivers include the (St. John River, Cestos River-also known as Nuon in the Dan or Gio language- the Yar River, near Cocopa in Nimba) St. Paul River, Cavalla (Y oubou), Mano, just to name a few of our magnificent rivers.

The natural beauty of Liberian also includes an abundance of forests covering nearly 14 million acres, including 230 species of useable timber such as Mahogany, palm trees, some of which have several heads, sacred oracles, Walnut, and Makere red ironwood (Ekki for house and bridge building) Teak, Whismore, Camwood, Abura, Niango; while wildlife such as elephants, viviparous toad, cross river gorilla, water buffalo, lions, zebra duiker, leopards, diana monkey, white mangabey, chimpanzees, pygmy hippopotamus, the only kind in the world, and eagles are plentiful in Liberia ( Our nation is blessed with magnificent birds such as the “dancing birds” to gymnobucco calvus, g ymnobucco peli, p ogoniulus scolopaceus, pogoniulus white-breasted guinea fowl atroflavus, pogoniulus subsulphureus, buccanodon duchaillui and lybius vieilloti ( Non-Liberians name their species native to Liberia and know that these species belong to Liberia . 

Our nation enjoys the earth’s finest climate and fertile soil for agricultural enterprise, for growing bananas, rice, plantain, bitter ball, cassava, Malaguatta pepper, mushroom, coffee, kola, cocoa, mango, okra, palm nuts, papaya, rubber, and much more. Iron ore tops the list of Liberia ’s mineral wealth, making this country one of the leading iron ore exporters in the world of Barite, cyanite, diamonds, gold, graphite, and manganese. Our ancestors used their environmental wisdom and spirituality to forewarn us, succeeding generations, against the concept of private property and selling homeland to foreign concessions, especially without regard for our people’s belief system, spiritual and cultural cannons, norms and mores of the land. The belief system of our people cherishes the universal bond between God, environment and human kind. Those who oppose the perpetual environmental concept of our forefathers seem to think that by proving some historicity of a few specific aspects of environmental self-sustainability they have, thereby, disproved the concept of our affinity to the earth. The burden of proof always rests upon the opposing side’s empirical data to prove wrong our ancestors’ foresight and premonition on environmental protection.

Liberia ’s Environment Today

It is said that nothing is ever really settled in history. Liberia , then and now, is a proof of that. Since our nation’s inception, the principle of discrimination has been a cornerstone. In other words, US involvement with Liberia has been one of its troubled pasts; producing imbalances, creating ethnic conflicts, poverty, general misery, civil wars and dependency.

A few cases can be made without the rewriting of history. The administration of President Daniel E. Howard, from 1912 to 1920, was not just afflicted with wars on all fronts, but Liberia had to deal with dreadful national assets to the point that civil servants’ wages were paid intermittently. World War I took a heavy toll on the country’s revenue intakes. There was a zero balance in revenue due to the naval blockade by German submarines which lasted until 1920. When the C.D.B King government turned to the U.S. for assistance during the Harding presidency, the negotiation dragged on from March to October 1921. While the State Department was reportedly sympathetic with the Liberians, the U.S. Congress interestingly failed to authorize the accord. ( The African Repository, Library of Congress); ( Richardson , N.R., 1959. Liberia’s Past and Present. London : Diplomatic Press).

This scenario cleared the way for Mr. Harbel Firestone to purchase Liberian land at mere 6 cents an acre to simply loot the product use in the manufacturing of rubber. Though he pledged to construct roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure, he failed to deliver; he used as an excuse, a $5-million loan Liberia incurred under relentless pressure from the United States. The Liberian Ambassador vividly captured this “historical duping” of our nation in his book Memoirs of Liberian Ambassador (Mellen Press, 1996), the company demanded the Liberian government to accept a loan of $5 million at the rate of 7 percent interest, failing which Firestone would not carry through its proposed development scheme. The Liberian people were reluctant to accept this heavy financial obligation but finally succumbed to the coercion of the great colossus of the north.

With the official indebtedness as a result of the loan, Liberia was never the same as this land grab made the Firestone Company the world's largest rubber plantation owner. There were ultra- misuse and pillage of the country’s minerals, other resources and its people’s labor. The platform for land grabbing by other companies, which goes on even now, had been erected. The Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC) is a case in point. The new or incoming rubber plantation in Maryland County is another example. (The Perspective, 2004). By the 1920s, the industrial deforestation of Liberia in the name of national development had begun with the King presidency. President King could not handle the financial exigency which spilled over from the Howard administration. As Liberian historians put it, "From 1940 to 1945, rubber was analogous to the United States , what crude oil was in the 1970s--it was scarce worldwide, and it was expensive. There were two reasons for this demand: first, Japan had invaded and confiscated the world's major sources of natural-rubber supply in the Far East (Malaysia and Singapore); and secondly, because scientists were still working on the creation of synthetic rubber, and whatever information the industrialized world had on synthetic rubber was still at its experimental stage ". (See Peter Morris’ book on “The American Synthetic Rubber Industry, CHF Press.

Because of this, the United States and its allies demanded that all German citizens in Liberia be expelled while the Americans monopolized Liberia ’s rubber industry. The Germans were considered a “security risk to the United States and its allies ”. Now we know that US President Franklin D. Roosevelt afflicted with cold, is said to have ignored his physician’s advice and made a brief stop at Roberts International Airport in 1943 to ascertain that his country’s demands were met. All German citizens were expelled and barred from Liberia . Their properties liquated to please Liberia ’s step-mother, the United States . For the most part, this became an expensive venture for our nation as German merchants not only helped ran the Liberian economy but were major trading partners. Most of the medical doctors working in Liberia at the time were Germans. Under tremendous American pressure, Liberians turned their backs on the benefits they were getting from the Germans and thus expelled them. In the middle 40s the William V.S. Tubman administration followed through with the gradual deforestation that continued as a strategy for national development. In 1944, he instituted the "Open Door Policy" which laid the groundwork for extensive land use and industrialization. Tubman's policy was designed to encourage foreign investment in Liberia , which would freely develop iron ore deposits and other mineral resources.(Hayman, A. I. & Preece, H. 1943. Lighting Up Liberia . New York : Creative Age Press, Inc.) ( The African Repository, Library of Congress). Under this policy, investors were exempted from taxes. For example, Colonel Lansdell K. Christie, a New York native was the first businessman to answer to President Tubman’s Open Door Policy. This paid off when he successfully bargained and acquired a mining right in 1946 to mainly exploited iron ore deposits, in the Bomi Range with its highest grade of ore containing about 66 percent iron. The “Christie Foundation,” the Liberian Mining Company, first major mining operation became the second major industrial company to Firestone Rubber Plantations Company ( Routinely in our national policy, commercial necessities, ruthless leadership and corruption ruled. “Monkey work, baboon draw" is a common saying concerning development in our nation. This has become a pattern- evidence of an overt negligence of our nation's critical assets by those leaders in position of authority. It has been an obnoxious misallocation and/or misplacement of Liberia 's indispensable resources.

In most cases how our nation was to be developed or how re-forestation would be undertaken was never a crucial part of these agreements. The environmental consequences of development were certainly not a priority. Many feasibility studies were implemented by experts, who often had connections with companies interested in doing business in Liberia . The bias in this unbalanced business pattern allowed experts and neutral third parties to have allegiance with the companies. Most of the recommendations reached by these unbiased experts never included any environmental or ecological faults. Challenges were not made in most cases as the nation did not have the experts to make them, especially when the populace was not brought up-to-date on these future impacts. As long as the corporation's presence kept the government economically stable, the future plight of the environment, after these companies have left, was sadly a task left to future generations. One of the tragedies in the history of our nation is that her leaders are usually misled by the word "development" or “money talks.” Therefore, things are not going to be good for us if we are carried away by the word “development” and “money talks.” There is a need to undertake an integrative model of environmental management for our nation and its people to deal with issue of negative external ideas and influences or better approach for foreign ideas and influences to harness it into positive national development.  Development is the act and process of making improvement. A definition of development does not state the final conditions. It only means the process of making something better. Therefore, the Liberian government must be aware that some developments could be detrimental to the country's future, culture and heritage. Addressing the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment, India 's late Prime Minister Gandhi epitomized this point: "A higher standard of living must be achieved without alienating the people from their heritage." There should be no fear in the minds of those who are in power to demand answers from companies that came to Liberia in the name of development. Herein, development should mean what these companies must leave behind those things that will sustain us in years to come and not what they carry with them and leave behind conditions that are likely to lead to lifetime destruction.

At this juncture, Liberia is at peril due to an assault on the sacred reverence of our environment by those who have limited knowledge on how we expressed our affinity with the environment. And such a denial of our universal validity is nothing less than an assault on our intrinsic values and our spirituality. We must resist this assault now. We must never remain silent to the slow death of our environment. Indeed, there are laws that cover some aspects of environmental controls. They should be given “teeth”, made stronger and clearer. Article 33 of the Health Ministry Laws of Liberia prohibits the dumping of waste in Liberian waters. However, during past administrations, the Minister of Planning, or whichever ministry/department is responsible for contract negotiation, allowed large companies like the National Ore Mining Company at Mano River, LAMCO and Bong Mining Companies to pollute the St. John River, the Mano River and their tributaries with iron ore dust and other residues of the iron ore production process. Even areas set aside by preceding governments for conservation and or scientific inquiry like the Sarpo National Park and Gola National Forest in Upper Cape Mount County and Lower Lofa County are in and off of the hands of logging companies or at the mercy of poachers, says Mr. Alexander Peal of Conservation International/Liberia . Traditional deforestation or small farming has become the order of the day due to the lack of national programs for alternative and systematic management.

In the 1980s the government decided that more than 284,000 acres in Sinoe County would be used by the University of Liberia for forestry studies and other scientific research. In 2000 those areas were turned over to Oriental Timber Company (OTC). In retrospect, it is not in our national interest to have an environmental protection law during the administration of one leader and it becomes non-existent under another administration. It is due to the lack of national priority or proper environmental policy and clear delineation of vision that of the Upper Guinea Forest with its estimated 551 diversities of species of mammals, are under threat without realizing that these vast insect populations play a critical role in our ecosystems. Some insects are of particular importance to our agricultural well-being as soil modifiers. For example, while we may see termites as ants that have nothing to do but bites those who trouble them, termites are both friend and foe to our environment. In colonies they enhance soil fertility by transporting and concentrating fertile subsoil clays near the surface and by increasing soil aeration. Some of the species in the forest, 45% of which is owned by our country, cannot be found anywhere else in the world. That in itself is not just good news for tourist’s attraction but a divine blessing. YLII logging activities of the Exotic Tropical Timber Enterprise (ETTE) is decimating these ecosystems leaving nothing for our people. Between 1997 and 2001 the company increased it activities by 1.3%, decimating about 12% of the forest’s 727,900 square-kilometers. As we speak, one of Liberia ’s rarest and sacred wonders, the Mt. Gibi ’s Oracle, a “rock kitchen” upheld by two rock pillars, which extends against the walls of the mountain and resembles the Hanging Garden of Babylon, is also under threat of destruction or theft. Environmental destruction threatens rarest and sacred white bats and Zhor birds, known for their unusual long necks that are endemic in that region. Other wildlife in the vicinities of Mt. Gibi and its sister Mt. Zeesiah are facing similar fates (Larway, 2004). A rare rock of the waterfalls, containing human footprints, could be stolen or destroyed at any moment. The current expulsion of 60,000 Bassa villagers by LAC is classic example of the abuse of our people, gross human rights violations and the destruction of the environment to which presidential aspirants and leadership of our nation remain mute.

It is not a secret that Liberia fought a 14 blood civil war, but our nation can also learn a lot from the Sudanese civil war that killed over a million people and an estimated 3.5 million displaced refugees as the world looks on. While this conflict has many causes, the primary factors of the recent catastrophe derived from systematic or protracted environmental from deforestation, which turned majority of the area into sand dooms. Having too many citizens and not enough land for farming and competition led to this sad event. (See Mohamed Suliman’s article, Civil War in Sudan: The Impact of Ecological Degradation, 1995). My point is while our nation is sparsely populated and its population was decimated by its own civil war, with time population will increase.

This is why Liberia must act now to avoid a Sudanese-like future conflict, if at all Liberia can use history as a divine rod of guidance. Frankly, changing weather patterns cannot be averted when the environment is destroyed. Despite our richness of vegetation, some of our soils are poor so we need to change our appetite for foreign concessions now. Deforestation can only increase the already heavy rainfall in the area, which will be acidified as rain passes through organic material on the forest floor and leaches most of the mineral content from the upper soil layers. Such will result to oxisols ore quite infertile, forcing plants to gain most of their nutrient needs from decaying vegetation. When you travel through our nation now, especially where deforestation is ongoing, oxisols, a reddish or yellowish in color, reflecting the high concentrations of iron and aluminum compounds in them are everywhere. Plants do not grow on this type of soil.

The pace at which our environment is being depleted suggests that Liberia stands to suffer additional consequences now being experienced by some nations around the world. The next reason for which Liberia must act now is that over the past two years, several Asian nations have suffered exceptionally heavy losses from natural disasters. These loses are put at about US$ billion of dollars. In 1998, extreme floods devastated several countries including Bangladesh , China and Viet Nam . El Niño-related droughts caused water shortages and forest fires in Indonesia and the Philippines . A Ten-meter tsunami hit Papua New Guinea killing more than 2,000 people in several coastal villages while the Kobe earthquake of 1995 killed over 5,000 people and caused tremendous damage. In economic terms, the damage from recent floods in Bangladesh was estimated at more than 5 per cent of the gross domestic product. So too was Japan ’s Kobe earthquake costing over US$100 billion. As of this writing, tropical storm Jeanne with its mudslide and heavy rains in Haiti has killed more than 1,500 people. Changing global climate contributed to 150,000 dead in 2000. (World Health Organization, 2000). In his December 6, 2004 article, “ Filipinos Scramble to Escape Villages”, Oliver Teves underscored the end results of our changing world weather due to environmental factors. “Back-to-back storms that killed at least 568 and left hundreds missing contributing to flash floods and mudslides that swept away hundreds of houses, roads and bridges in what has been the southeast Asian nation's worst storm season in 13 years”, he concluded.

Make no mistake! Climate change as a result of Liberian environmental degradation will have an adverse impact on our health in occurrence of vector-borne diseases such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, etc. When our forests are all gone and rainfall rises above normal levels, collecting and stagnating or still water will provide excellent breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease vectors. T he World Health Organization (WHO) puts the consequences into proper perspective. Accordingly, an estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from intense malaria annually. The impact is critical for women of child-bearing age, many of whom can suffer from anemia, thereby prompting premature delivery and low birth-weight. As such, malaria is a primary disease in Africa and a primary cause of poverty of which our nation is a part. For the most part, not only nine out of 10 episodes occur in south Saharan Africa, but Africa 's gross domestic product (GDP) today would surpass 32 if malaria had been eradicated 35 years ago on this issue. ( See Harvard University ’s Research, 2001).

Our current environmental action will produce the climatic conditions in Liberia which offer a conducive breeding ground for malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, which have over the years will become hard to control because they have developed a resistance to insecticides. We, as Liberians need not run head on with the disasters that are manageable. Nations like Kenya , Tanzania , and Zambia , just to name a few that have experienced the same fate are not turning their nation around. For example, Zambia has embarked on an anti-malaria drive, an integrated, community-based approach which aims at selling nets and insecticide in districts grappling with the tasks of controlling the spread of malaria. In this case environmental protection is at center stage. The Japanese government has partnership with the Zambian government to supply them with pesticide-treated mosquito nets, malaria drugs, and other paraphernalia for the program.

We now know that chloroquine -- the cheapest anti-malarial drug is now useless as patients or Africans have developed resistance to it and global warming, which is encouraging malaria vectors to flourish to the development of world-wide parasite resistance to anti-malaria drugs, is not helping the situation. (Gerald Keusch, Multilateral Initiative on Malaria). Furthermore, Liberia is experiencing an unusual extremely hot dry season temperature. Though research has yet to confirm if Liberians are dying from hot temperature, an estimated 20,000 people who died as the result of extremely hot temperatures in Europe (ABC News, 2004), is a classic example and a fate in which Liberia is not excluded. Unlike Liberia , the nations have the resources and manpower.

Who will come to our help or give us $100 billion dollars to rebuild our nation when these sorts of natural disasters befall it because of deforestation? We do ourselves no good when communities that have traditionally managed our forests are disgraced by recent changes in their political systems to the point where their customs have been destroyed. The Samfu Foundation, in an article, named the below concessions as those engaged in Liberia ’s destruction and deforestation:

• Oriental Timber Company/NLI
• Maryland Wood Processing Industry
• Inland Logging Company
• Royal Timber Corporation
• United Logging Corporation
• Togba Timber Company
• Mohammed Group of Companies
• Iberic Liberia Forest Corporation
• Cavalla Timber Company
• Liberia Wood Management Company/CBI
• Akari Timber Industry
• Xanon Liberia Limited
• American Wood Processing Company
• Forest Hill Corporation
• Bureaux Ivorian Ngorian
• Tropical Logging Company
• Tropical Lumber Company

Imagine the sort of damage these companies are inflicting on our nation! As mentioned before, a forest's watershed protection value alone can exceed the worth of its timber. Beyond that, the ecosystems of forests provide habitat for birds and insects that pollinate crops and control pests. Their roots hold soil in place, reducing erosion and controlling the runoff of water. And by storing vast amounts of carbon, forests help stabilize the global climate.

How can we allow these foreign companies free rein over our lifeline while our government and leaders sit supinely in Monrovia ? Do we know what else they are taking out of our nation and what they are leaving behind? Between 1997 and 2001 the export value (CBM) was 797,600.109 with a dollars value of $81, 346,993.69. The agony is that there is no incentive to the local people in terms of thoroughfares, schools, hospitals and equities. How big is our nation to have publicly-owned forests not looked upon as opportunities for collective management of valuable resources? Why are they perceived as "free" commodities to be used by anyone, free from government regulation? Why are our forests not being managed for the common good for our generation and those yet to inherit it? Why are they being abused and neglected?

Our national relationship suffers when the best brains and government are heavy-footed and refuse to come together. Unless there is a radical metamorphosis in which Liberians “mount wings like eagles”, the intruders and peace agents will be only concerned with prolonging the civil conflict, diamond deals, deforestation and sexual exploitation. They are not only hell-bent on plundering our forests and natural wealth, but wrecking the whole natural order: deforestation, clearing land, killing animals and other hidden assets. The uncontrolled squandering of our natural resources goes unchecked even though resources such as forests, rivers, marines, diamonds, wildlife, gold and soil, once used or exhausted, can never be restored. Something must be done, as soon as possible, to try to limit the scale of the disaster. It is already too late to avoid it completely, but prompt actions now could certainly help.

Our people, who are spiritually, medically and nutritionally linked to the forests, will bear a disproportionate burden of the nation's environmental deforestation, pollution of coastal waters from oil residue and raw sewage problems. Thousands of acres of flora and fauna (rainforest) are ruined. Our nation is witnessing unprecedented changes in the quality of its environment. Forests are being lost at an unparalleled pace. In other words, the flora is cut and burned, the top soil suffers massive erosion, water supplies are polluted or destroyed, and the wildlife is driven into shrinking areas of refuge. Potential life-saving medicinal herbs are lost forever and natural resources are destroyed for short-term gain. For example, “ Pygeum africanum” ( herbal medicine for prostate gland enlargement or urinary disorders found around Mt. Nimba environment that can bring in million of dollars if properly harvested, is being destroyed from mining. So too are the destruction of our nation’s traditional universities (Poro and Sande) which can only be built and function in such a grove where discipline, survival, and leadership skills are taught by the College of Elders . One is left to wonder! Is there anything in Liberia worth fighting for with every fiber of our Liberian souls? The ugliness of the destruction of the Poro and Sande Universities at the hands of OTC is that they are now being replaced with brothels which promote drugs use, gangsterism, prostitution and the sexual exploitation of young boys and girls between the ages of 12 to 15. Our children, who are our “precious jewels”, are forced to turn their backs on both schools to join the brothels now called “Zoe Bush”. (The Samfu Foundation, 2001). No wonder why we are faced with the imminent danger of the spread of HIV/AIDS only to be a laughing stocks on the world stage. The health effect is also an issue of concern. The lack of proper sanitary facilities prompts the building of “all house” near rivers, streams and creeks that our people use for drinking, bathing and washing.

The term "environmental whey" describes an insidious form of discrimination and also refers to international and ethnic disparities in the formulation and enforcement of environmental laws and policies. Hazardous and toxic waste facilities, rubber coagulation, deforestation, pesticide and other polluting industries disproportionately impact the Liberian minority. Droughts and famines regularly follow environmental abuses. And children are the ones most victimized in such environmental scourge. Children under the age of five suffer the most from polluted water; elevated rates of cancer, heavy metals (lead poisoning), asthma, birth defects and other serious health problems. Despite the devastating and deadly health consequences directly related to environmental whey, the Swedish, German, Italian and US governments have failed to adequately address this issue. Under their national governments, companies from these nations are obligated to protect the public health of all of its citizens. However, when these companies come to Liberia they simply do not take serious these same public policies to protect our nation from environmental hazards. Executives of these companies have failed to adequately and equally enforce existing environmental laws with respect to people of Liberia . Or more accurately, Liberia does not exist in their minds.

Companies operating in Liberia should know that dumping iron ore wastes into rivers creates brown, red or yellow pigmentation and precipitation of iron oxides. Such practice is prohibited in Sweden , the United States and Germany where these companies are based. However, when the foreign concessionaires are granted mining rights in Liberia , the profits and loose laws of the country discouraged them from responsible ecological management of their wastes. For example, an investigation by LAMCO identified the contents of three sources of contamination as the following: (1) wash-off from tailing area into the rivers (St. John River, Cestos River-also known as Nuon in the Dan or Gio language- the Yar River, near Cocopa in Nimba) by heavy rains; (2) yellow clay precipitate from ore lateritic (rock decay that is red in color and has high oxide contents of iron and hydroxide of aluminum) originating in water washing down the mountainside; and (3) run-off from hematite ore. This investigation implied that LAMCO was not solely responsible for the pollution of the water because heavy rains also helped to carry the pollutants into the rivers. The company shamelessly reasoned that the heavy rains are contributing causes of pollution. But LAMCO failed to realize that prior to the mining operations, the color of the rivers was never "red or yellow." Secondly, LAMCO should have established a proper control system to prohibit the flow of the residue into rivers that provide fish and livelihood for thousand of Liberians and contribute to the safe ecology of the country. The Firestone Rubber Plantation is another classic example of how our country’s waterways are polluted. Over the years, residues of pesticides and chemicals used in processing rubber were dumped into the Farmington River endangering the biomass and the villages which developed along the river. The absence of public awareness of the health hazards posed by the polluted river and the continual use of the biomass by our people is a hidden national health problem. A problem which has not been addressed by our governments or the companies because no one could pinpoint the source. Again, our people are at the frontlines of this calamity. They cannot ship in clean water, fresh vegetables or fruits. All they have is their immediate surroundings.

It can be safely concluded that Firestone’s deliberate dumping of toxic chemicals, residues of formaldehyde and pesticides into the river is a homicide. It is a homicide because our people are drinking untreated water from the tributaries of the river. Deirdre Griswold argues that: "Workers also complained that they feel ill from spraying trees with Difolatan, which enhances latex production. In the United States , federal health officials list Difolatan as a 'known or suspected carcinogen' that can and cause asthma and skin irritation. After all those years in which the Firestone corporation paid tens of thousands of workers just pennies an hour--and had them shot down if they organized and fought back--what did this corporation do with all the money it made? (See the Mother Moore Magazine or Firestone abuse of Liberian Labors). All those who use the river are at the mercy of these toxins. Those toxins kill people. Even the river’s plant and animal life cannot escape this catastrophe. Besides fresh water pollution, Liberia 's coastal waters are major sources of pollution from oil residues dumped by large oil tankers, oil cargo handling and off-shore petroleum drilling. These environmental tragedies are a direct result of our governments’ negligence in establishing and enforcing meaningful regulatory policies plus engaging ill-fated economic and development policies. Liberia ’s civilized leaders have been led to believe that if our rivers are not navigable or do not have commercial values, then they are of no importance- one of the several political reasons why the rivers are polluted. The fact that all the waterways in Liberia have ecological vale and the essence of God in them is of little importance.


The 4 th republic must be a dawning of a day for Integrated National Environment Management for Liberia that must be legislatively enacted and constitutionally approved by the government. A policy of implementation must be initiated which will address urgent administrative issues, the development of an Integrated Environment Management and legislative measures. The following administrative actions must be heeded to as a matter of urgency

  • BSc. in Environmental Education at all the major institutions of learning in Liberia
  • Research program at the nation higher institutions of learning to enhance the management of our nation’s rich biological heritage
  • Establish Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) through structured consultations and negotiations, to ensure that no deforestation without proactive and verifiable measures are adhered to
  • Investigate a remediation fund for re-forestation using unemployed ex-combatants
  • Review this Integrated National Environment Management policy on an on-going basis
  • Legal framework or using the Constitution or Supreme Court whichever one have teeth to clearly delineate irrevocable, monitor able and enforceable environmental protection act or “do nots” list for the nation
  • Developed prerequisite human resource such a “park rangers”, housing, vehicles, education, training which will be enforced and monitored
  • Establishment of a Wetland College/Institute or program and ask donor nations to train 25 train-the trainer or instructors

Ensuring the future environmental and ecological health of the nation must be of primary concern. First we must reverse the political conditions that have immensely weakened the little environmental laws on records. It is worth mentioning that there is the Environmental Protection Agency, but there are no established standards and the legal prosecution of violators is almost an impossible venture. Of course, on paper, our nation has some of the world's strictest logging laws, but our governments enforced these laws so lightly that these companies feel that they can do anything and get away with it. Practically, nothing can protect us out to stop the environmental destruction against our country and its people. We raise our voices in opposition to this war and invite others to join us in support of peace.

It is in this frame of reference that we, as a nation, need to see how we can exchange ideas and come up with meaningful integrated environmental management solutions to the continuing environmental destruction in Liberia . “If remain unattended, these issues could disrupt the basic life support, deterioration which could certainly result in food shortages, shelter problems and rapid deterioration of the bases of fuel/energy medicine and safe drinking water. Economic development of Liberia is highly dependent on the resources of the natural environment of which special habitats (such as wetlands) are a very important component ”, says Dr Fodee Kromah, Executive Director National Environmental Commission.

Our nation is in urgent need of the creative talents of all her sons and daughters. We must call for an end to environmental exploitation and cheap marketing of such products. As it stands now there is only one way, which must ensure the sustainable use of our national resources whose management or sustainability lies within the frameworks of transparent policy, training and research. It is inconsequential for those living abroad to waste a lifetime waiting for the right opportunity, the right international organizations, or the right men or women to come along to fix things, protect the environment and rebuild Liberia for us. Liberia is not only going “bald”, but suffering from a huge brain drain. The lack of a committed national leadership and meaningful socio-economic development are profound. We need to make whatever contributions we can toward the rebuilding of Liberia and the protection of its geological beauty.

There must be ground for hope that this will happen as soon as possible. If we show collective concern for our nation’s environment it really will create the needed energy. We have the power to move beyond fear and anger and remember the necessity of having a protected environment in post-conflict Liberia — for the sake of our spirituality, self-preservation and especially for generations to come. We need to do this now, all of us. We are at another critical fulcrum points in Liberian history – all of us, together – where the decisions we make will shape a century.

Our roots lie beneath those Giants Mountains , rivers, lakes, mangroves, swamps beds which geographically define Liberia , so we have every right and responsibility to fight for its environmental protection, rebirth, growth, and ascension to the highest pinnacle. Though these forest canopies supports numerous species of mammals, our umbilical chords and the fossils of our parents are also anchored on top tropical canopy in Liberia , so we must return to our roots and help rebuild Liberia . On this issue, we need to come together regardless of our ethnic backgrounds or the organizations to which we belong, and find a common solution to the environment problems in Liberia .

About the Author:

Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health at NC A&T State University in Greensboro , North Carolina . He is author of several books, including, The Historical Resettlement of Liberia and Its Environmental Impact, Christianity, Colonization and State of African Spirituality, and Nyanyan Gohn-Manan: History, Migration & Government of the Bassa (a book about traditional Bassa leadership and cultural norms published in 2003). Somah is also the Executive Director of the Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), a nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina . He can be reached at: ;

Other articles by Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D.