Friday, May 1, 2009
ADDRESSING POVERTY IN LIBERIA
Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei
In attempts to discuss chronic poverty and living standards in a country with abundant resources and favorable climate for agricultural activities – considerable amount of rainfall and sunshine - this edition of the series will assess the meaning of poverty in the Liberian context and its impacts in the rural and urban settings. Intermittently, the writer will attempt to provide recommendations through the analysis.
Finding suitable meaning to poverty in Liberia and its implications in both rural and urban communities will put us in better positions to determine why poverty exists in Liberia, who is poor, and why; and who is rich and how. At present, Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries, and its people are positioned on a line of disadvantaged in measuring human and social developments – poor maternal health, high level of illiteracy, high level of teenage pregnancy, and prevalence of diseases (TB, Malaria, diarrhea, etc). The country also lags behind in the achievement of the UN Millennium Development goals. These developments, regularly blamed on the 14 year civil wars, are prevailing in a nation rich in rubber, timber, iron ore, gold and diamond, and a vast virgin forest, and a virgin tourism industry. This article does not dismiss the current progress and prospects that lie ahead; its focus is to discuss poverty as it is in Liberia. It is however optimistic that the nation will rise and surmount the problems posed by chronic poverty, but believes that this can only be achieved with a people –centered and visionary leadership.
According to Ted K. Bradshaw, poverty in its most general sense is the lack of necessities. On the basis of shared values of humanity, basic food, shelter, medical care, security and freedom are necessary for the growth and sustainability of an ideal life. When a family, like most Liberian families cannot send their children to school; cannot afford better meals, and lacks economic security and protection from threats and harms, that family is considered poor. Socially, families in such conditions stand the risks of being torn apart badly, and real family life with values become relatively absent. In most instances the children lose confidence in their parents thereby breeding terrible attitudes of indiscipline which soon become burdens on society at large. This is how crimes, illiteracy, prostitution, teenage pregnancy and many social ills are borne in Liberia. In 2005 Save The Children – UK reported that 90 percent of high school girls from a survey conducted in Monrovia survived on prostitution. Recent reports from Gbarpolu and Lofa counties indicate that teenage pregnancy is on the increase. The two counties are in rural Liberia that hosts 73 percent of the country’s poorest (Liberia PRS). If one is to interpret the facial expressions of school-going children in Liberia, it is psychosocially possible to discover that besides thinking of his/her lesson, a child may be worrying about getting a meal to have lunch, tuition and fees, after school meal, and other necessities parents fall short of providing.
Poverty in another term means the absence of development, and the absence of favorable alternatives to an individual in the pursuit of maintaining his human dignity through better living standards. I coined this definition after a tour of several poor communities in Monrovia and its suburbs where I saw the extent to which poverty had consumed the human dignity of people that up to present they use bushes, swamps and beaches for toilets, eat anywhere, and no one can distinguish children from elders because they are all competing for basic life needs at the same time. These people, I again realized were only victims of failed governance systems and poor management of resource that have made the abundant natural resources inaccessible to a small population that have not crossed 3.5 million for over 20 years.
Those communities, most of which are slums, need long term programs in microfinance assistance or grants to help individuals and families get involved with productive activities. And affirmative action through development programs are needed as well to provide for them sources of safe drinking water, good environment and accessible medical care. Sound and efficient local leadership systems that will give communities ownership and managerial control over their own resources will also take us steps forward in reducing poverty across the country.
Development reports continue to present the case of poverty as prevalent in rural Liberia, while this series does not intend to challenge that, its author believes that urban-based poverty is also prevalent and it is the worst because it is a major cause of crimes and prostitutions, and also political uprisings. Reports of poverty in Liberia must therefore present fair cases base on threat potential and security analyses.
Urban communities are sensitive to lot of things, including political situations, prices in commodities, and new technologies. While the rate of poverty relative to the affected communities threats people in varying ways, the tendency of urban-based poverty to get terrible reactions that destabilizes nations is very high. It is believed that most people migrate to urban areas due to the lack of viable economic activities, and efficient social services in the rural settlements.
Most of those that sometimes migrate to urban areas are young people in search of greener pastures or in pursuit of educational goals. With their resettlements in the urban areas without available jobs also lead to mass urban youth unemployment. The Government of Liberia and development institutions must therefore be sensitive to these facts. To avoid mass urban migration that is sometimes a cause of mass urban unemployment, Liberia needs to focus on a more pragmatic system of decentralizing economic and educational activities. The rural communities must be given better incentives to promote agricultural activities and employment. Better education and health services must also be extended to communities in rural Liberia.
Above all, government must ensure a transparent and equitable distribution of the natural resources across the landscape. Concentrating resources in one place with few people threatens peace and security everywhere in the country. Finally, it is prudent to reemphasize that addressing poverty in Liberia needs to be done with a pragmatic approach that must ensure the opening of rural communities. This can be done through affirmative action mainly for counties or communities that are mostly affected by poverty.
-In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice, The Pen Shall Never Run Dry-