MONROVIA (Reuters) – As the sun set over Liberia’s vast West Point slum, youth leader Archie Gbezay shook his head as children meandered around dense piles of trash, playing catch with jars of old hair product plucked from polluted puddles of water. Gbezay, 34, has seen his neighbours in corrugated iron shacks grapple with flash floods, a crumbling coastline and a devastating Ebola epidemic.
But he cannot come to terms with the state of the nearby beach, patches of sand barely visible beneath the rubbish. “It threatens our existence as people and poses a serious health hazard,” he said of the trash. “But we as community people, our hands are tied.”
Many in Liberia’s congested capital Monrovia say a lack of waste management has become a full-blown crisis, with rubbish overflowing on streets and lapping at doorsteps.
There are only three designated dump sites in the city centre and few garbage trucks with sporadic collection times.
Mounds of trash can grow two metres (6.6 feet) high and, at their worst, span an entire block before being removed. Monrovia Mayor Jefferson Koijee said there are plans to expand the truck fleet and that 120 “waste monitors” have been hired for the worst-affected areas. But the problem must be tackled collectively, he said. “I don’t find comfort in presiding over a dirty city (or) pleasure in being questioned about the city being disorganized,” he told Reuters. “Every individual has a responsibility to ensure this city is clean.” Foreign diplomats have criticised authorities in Monrovia for half-hearted cleanup measures, raising ire among officials like Koijee, who pointed to inadequate donor support.
But some fed-up Monrovia residents have taken matters into their own hands. Businesswoman Vivian Bhatti hired a group of young men to clear the trash from some of the busiest streets ahead of Liberia’s bicentennial launch celebrations in February. “I decided to give this route a facelift to showcase the cleanliness and uniqueness of Liberians,” she said. “Us Liberians have to take up the initiative.”
(This story corrects bicentennial celebration date to February in penultimate paragraph)
(Reporting by Carielle Doe, writing by Cooper Inveen, editing by Sofia Christensen and Mark Heinrich)