Liberia: Local Civil Society Group Engaging Lawmakers for the Establishment of a WASH Standing Committee

Monrovia — Compassion for Humanity Liberia (C4H Liberia), a national non-governmental organization, has announced its commitment to formalizing the establishment of the WASH Legislative Committee as a standing committee.

During a news conference held on Monday at its Mamba Point office, Madam Weemon Jallah-Cole stated that the project aims to coordinate WASH sector stakeholders at national and subnational levels to advocate for legislative engagement, formalizing the WASH caucus into a WASH Standing Committee within the legislature.

The standing committee will hold policy and fiduciary responsibilities, including raising political awareness to clarify multiple overlapping mandates among Government of Liberia (GoL) WASH institutions. It will also work to revise urban WASH policies, plan accountability mechanisms, increase the WASH Public Sector Investment Plan budget portfolio, centralize WASH regulations, and support policy advocacy for sanitation governance.

Once established, the committee will exercise policy and legislative functions to allocate the national budget for enhancing WASH and sanitation governance in the country.

The processes leading to the establishment of the standing committee will involve identifying additional legislators to strengthen the existing WASH champions, holding consultations with sector actors (including but not limited to the WASH consortium), drafting a resolution advocating for the standing committee, and mobilizing public and private WASH and sanitation institutional capacity for the advocacy campaign.

The organization aims to engage members of the Liberian parliament, especially those part of the WASH Caucus, to champion the campaign for the establishment of a WASH Standing Committee. It also seeks to garner citizen support, develop the capacity of relevant institutions, and advocate for public funding allocation in support of national and subnational WASH activities.

The project has two overarching goals: the establishment of a House Standing Committee on WASH within the national legislature and the strengthening of national WASH policies and practices through citizens’ engagement, institutional capacity strengthening, and budget advocacy.

A study indicates that challenges in the WASH sector can largely be attributed to “fragmented responsibilities,” the “lack of a standalone policy on sanitation,” and “weak regulation and enforcement.” These challenges contribute to the country’s poor sanitation outcomes, with access to basic sanitation lacking.

According to the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme, open defecation rates have gradually fallen but remain at 38% in 2020 – well above the West African regional average. Open Defecation Free status has often proven unsustainable, leading households to revert to open defecation as poor-quality toilets become unusable over time. Garbage management is severely lacking, with waste disposed of into lagoons and water bodies without regulation, posing serious public health risks.

The Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PADP), Liberia’s national vision document under the recently ended Weah-led Government, estimated an annual loss of US $17.5 Million due to the effects of poor sanitation on public health and productivity. Data from 2021 indicates that 75% of the country’s population had access to the supply of basic drinking water, with only 15% enjoying such access on their premises. In rural areas, this percentage drops to about 64%. Liberia’s progress towards increasing access to improved sanitation has been slow, hindering the chances of achieving SDG#6. The country managed a slight increase in access to sanitation from 17% in 2015 to 18% in 2020, but population growth resulted in a significant rise in the total number of Liberians without safe sanitation access, reaching 38% practicing open defecation.

With this percentage already higher than its regional neighbors, the data also reveals that 97% of the population lacks facilities for handwashing. Faucal sewage is collected by vacuum trucks and disposed of randomly without regulation into lagoons and other water bodies, posing a serious health concern, especially in underserved urban and peri-urban communities.

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