Liberia: Government Inaction Brings U.S.$26 Million Coastal Defense Project to a Standstill

Westpoint, Liberia — As sea erosion continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of this low-lying Monrovia township there is growing anger here about the status of the $US25.6 million project launched in 2021 and meant to bring relief to desperate communities along Liberia’s sinking coastline.

The massive six-year Monrovia Metropolitan Climate Resilience Project, funded in large part by donors, should be halfway to completion by now with a range of improvements including community-led projects to conserve Monrovia’s mangrove ecosystems, small-scale manufacturing facilities to promote energy-efficient livelihoods, and the construction of coastal defense structures to hold back the sea.

But here in one of the worst-hit communities where 800 homes have already been washed away, people have seen nothing but a few small handouts in the run-up to elections.

Inquiries by FPA/New Narratives have found that the delay has been caused, in part, because the Weah government failed to pay its share of the project.

The Green Climate Fund (GFC), an international donor fund designed to help low-income countries adapt to climate change, was to fund the bulk of the costs – $ US17.2 million. The United Nations Development Fund was to pay $US1.6m. The Liberian government was to pay $6.8m. But to date, the government has paid just a small fraction of the money according to UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Louis Kuukpen.

“$50,000 initial co-financing has been provided by the government through the EPA and high-level discussions are ongoing with the MoFDP (Ministry of Finance Development and Planning, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and UNDP for the government co-financing,” said Kuukpen in an interview in January.

Kuukpen’s statement runs counter to the claim made to FPA/New Narratives by Wilson Tarpeh, executive director of the EPA in the Weah government who claimed in an interview in the run-up to the elections, that the government had paid what was expected of it by now.

“In addition, the government has made available its in-kind contribution (large rocks that will hold back the sea), so anytime we want to start construction, we already have the rocks,” Kuukpen said. “What we are looking for now is to finish up the hydrological studies which will pave the way for the actual construction. And that’s the time that we will need the government to release its co-financing.”

Tarpeh claimed the delay was due to a series of challenges. “Some of the delays were covered by consultant firms that were contracted to do the work and later came back to us that they were no longer prepared, they didn’t have what they thought they had, so, we had to repeat the process,” Tarpeh said. “Then of course, a little bit of that had to do with co-financing, which both parties– the UNDP and the government – have been able to overcome. So, we are on course with that.”

Tarpeh did not respond to numerous follow-up calls and texts asking why the government had provided so little of the funds it had committed.

The process has stalled as the Boakai administration takes over. Pressure will now be on the new heads of the EPA and Finance and Planning to ensure the project gets back on track. Things should move quickly from there according to Kuukpen.

“We have completed the social environmental impact studies. In the hydrological studies, we have gone very far, we’ve collected the data, and it’s been analyzed. Once those analyses are concluded, we go straight into construction,” said Kuukpen.

Help can’t come soon enough for people in West Point. Ma Annie Lama, an elderly woman here, says her home was an eight-room house on the ocean that she had lived in with her family of seven since the 1970s. The sea slowly began to encroach in 2015, according to Lama.

Lama and her family were asleep one night in 2018 when the roaring sea began tearing down walls one by one. Fearing for their lives, they grabbed what they could as the house crumbled into the sea. Lama and her seven children now live in a one-bedroom rental apartment near here. A widow for 30 years she didn’t expect to be fighting for a house at her age after struggling to raise her children.

The need for action is urgent. Lama is one of an estimated 6,500 people who have been affected by sea erosion, according to A 2023 Interactive Country fiches report. In the last decade, Liberia’s shorelines have retreated 30 meters, according to a 2021 UNDP report.

The report warned that “without intervention — and with the added impact of climate change — the coast is expected to move 190 meters by 2100 taking thousands of homes. Sea-level rise and urban encroachment into the Mesurado Wetland also threaten the sustainability of fisheries in the region. The loss of breeding areas for fish in the area could destroy the livelihood of 55,000 Monrovians, half of them women.

But Ma Annie raises another challenge of the project. She and other people have been told the project will rebuild their homes.

“If they cannot build the house let them give us the money we will go and find a place for ourselves,” Ma Annie said. “We are thinking about the way we are sitting maybe the sea will come anytime, we don’t know. If they give me money, I will go buy a different place.”

Rebuilding of homes is not part of the project. According to a 2022 report by The Green Climate Fund (GFC), the project was due to focus on coastal protection management, putting in place “revetment” – large rocks that would hold back the sea for 40 years; supporting gender-climate-resilient livelihoods and improving the resilience of climate-sensitive livelihoods in Monrovia.

Veronica Kamma, 32, is one of many residents FPA/NN spoke with who lost their homes and are expecting them to be rebuilt. Kamma said her four-bedroom house with a shop attached to it, was swallowed by the ocean in 2019. Since then Kamma has rented a two-bedroom apartment, where she now lives with her children, siblings, and her mother, paying a monthly rent of $ 35.

“Some people received cups of rice and a sheet of zinc, but I did not receive anything from the government or the township,” said Veronica Kamma, who said she was born and grew up in the township. “I only heard that the government will come to give us money and build our house back.”

It appears that even West Point Township Commissioner Willam Wea has been led by government officials to believe rebuilding of homes will happen.

“Our focus has been to ensure that the construction of the wall is done because when that is adequately done it helps to protect the township from further sea erosion, then we can begin with constructions of homes that will suit modern reality,” Wea said in a January interview. “But in the absence of the sea wall, any construction carried out is a waste.”

However, the UNDP’s Kuukpen was clear that home construction was not part of the project.

“The government has a responsibility to provide safety to its people, and so if a government official makes that promise or makes that statement, it may be in that good intent, ” said Kuukpen. “However, the project itself does not have those components of reconstructing homes and other things. But, the government may have plans of really supporting families that are immediately affected to ease their relocation to safer zones.”

NN/FPA could not find any evidence of a recent official government project to rebuild homes. Still many here are hanging onto that promise.

The process has also been frustrating for local staff as well.

“Me myself not happy,” said Thomas Tweh, a project coordinator for the township of West Point and in the office of the township Commissioner. Therefore, the government needs to do more to make the project a reality. The UNDP should be able to tell the government that they are slow in their work making their contribution or making space available.”

With the transition to the new Boakai government, people here are hopeful things will start to move. The UNDP is hopeful too.

“We look forward to a strong working relationship with the new administration and for them to take this project seriously,” said Kuukpen, “because the challenges of climate change are not going away.”

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the Climate Justice Reporting Project. Funding was provided by the American Jewish World Service. The funder had no say in the story’s content.

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