Post-conflict assessment of impacts on Liberian wetlands

15/06/2006

Swiss Grant for Africa: Liberia reports on the civil crisis' consequences on its wetlands and drafts its NWP

The Ramsar Secretariat is pleased to report on the finalization by Liberia of a project which took place in the framework of the Ramsar/ Swiss Grant for Africa initiative on post-conflict assessment of wetlands in selected West and Central African countries.

The project, which also received funds from Ramsar's Small Grants Fund, had several objectives, among which are the production of a national report on the Impact of the Civil Conflict on Wetlands, the development of a national wetland policy, and the establishment of a National Wetlands Committee.

The report on the Liberian crisis' effects on wetlands states that during the conflict, which started in December 1989, the major impact was on the urban wetlands, as people left the rural areas to move to the cities. In Monrovia the population went from 250,000 to one million, with people encroaching onto mangrove wetlands as a result. With environmental considerations secondary to survival, the people practiced indiscriminate agriculture and fishing, over-harvested the mangrove wood, dumped rubbish in the wetlands, and reclaimed land in certain areas.

It's worth noting that the Liberian civil war ended in 2003, after claiming close to 200,000 lives and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

Staff of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia, Ramsar's Administrative Authority, and the Society for the Conservation of Nature for Liberia (SCNL), a local NGO, visited eight wetland sites to assess the impacts of the civil conflict on them. Relevant information collected and compiled as part of the project output assisted consultants in drafting the National Wetland Policy Outline, as well as Ramsar Information Sheets (RIS) for four proposed Ramsar sites, which are currently being finalized. A number of workshops and seminars were held to present the outputs and validate the data, and on the 9th June 2005 the National Wetlands Committee (NWC) was established (as reported in a previous announcement). The NWC produced an outline of the national wetlands policy in the course of last year and this was adopted in February 2006. Some of the key principles underlying the National Wetland Policy are the following:

o The need for an ecosystem approach, while integrating wetland issues in all sectors, to ensure the conservation of wetlands and their functions

o The health and health needs of Liberians depend greatly on wetlands and their functions

o Wetland conservation is greatly achieved through a coordinated, cooperative approach involving all relevant stakeholders, including local people and the private sector

o Recognition of the Liberian Government's role in advocating for the conservation of wetlands, while respecting the rights of the local people to land ownership and the decision making process

o The need for basic change in the attitude and perceptions of Liberians regarding wetlands through communication and education programs at national and local levels

o Continuous scientific researches and the development of expertise on wetlands in Liberia is the basis for achieving wetland conservation

The strategic priorities for action are now

o to seek relevant legislations for the legislative enactment of the proposed policy and to develop laws for critical missing areas
o to set up projects and establish full management authority over the country's Ramsar sites
o to mainstream wetland issues into the national planning processes
o to set-up a national awareness programme aimed at wetland communities and policy makers
o to seek international cooperation with neighbors of shared water resources through joint projects and communication strategies

We congratulate Liberia and its Environmental Protection Agency for its achievements so far, as far as establishing a NWC and drafting its wetland policy, while we also note that challenging times lie ahead for implementing the commitments it has taken. We also urge all the development partners to assist the Government of Liberia in implementing these commitments.

-- Lucia Scodanibbio, Assistant Advisor for Africa

REPORT ON THE IMPACTS OF THE LIBERIAN CIVIL CRISIS ON WETLANDS (PDF)

Some photos from Abou Bamba's orientation visit to Liberia early in the project

Bridge on Mesurado River (proposed Ramsar site), site of fierce battles during the conflict

The heavily polluted Mesurado river in Monrovia, 2004

Street vendors on the bridge over the Mesurado River, riverside pollution in the background

Providence Island, where the country was created by former slaves from the USA, later a refuge for soldiers of the guerilla forces

Ramsar's Senior Advisor for Africa with Liberian focal points of the conventions on Biological Diversity, Desertification, World Heritage, and Wetlands.

Abou Bamba and a United Nations tank, 2004

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