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Issues Surrounding Rural Poverty in Liberia

Fourteen years Liberia’s civil wars killed hundreds of thousands and displaced the majority of the population. The prolong period of conflict compounded by the effects of the Ebola crisis resulted in chronic food insecurity and severe nutritional deficits.

Inadequate clean water, poor sanitation and hygiene practices continue to affect many communities, especially in rural areas, and present a persistent risk of preventable waterborne diseases. In 1999 that 80 percent of Liberia’s population was living below the poverty line, most of them engaged in subsistence agriculture, farming small plots of land.

Liberia has made slow and uneven progress in reducing poverty. It has an estimated population of over 5 million. The country is still recovering from decades of civil war and crises, as well as the 2014 Ebola crisis which claimed more than 4,800 lives and had a significant socio-economic impact. Many Liberians continue to suffer from food insecurity and inadequate nutrition, especially in rural areas. Rural population (% of total population) in Liberia was reported at 48.38 % in 2019, according to the World Bank.

Before the war there were 1,635 schools, 8,804 teachers, and 303,168 pupils. Primary and secondary education was free, though only 50 percent of the primary school age groups attended school. Although most education provision broke down during the war, new efforts to rehabilitate schools and pay wages to teachers have brought about some recovery. The adult literacy is still low at 48 percent, compared to the sub-Saharan average of 58 percent.

Emerging from a brutal civil war that completely devastated the economy, infrastructure, and basic services. The health sector was severely degraded, with more than 60% of health care workers resettling in other countries. Since the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement it has been recovering from a civil war that destroyed national infrastructure and basic social services. Roads and infrastructure are being rebuilt, health facilities and schools are reopening, and agricultural production is increasing.

In an effort to boost recovery, the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) was launched to articulate the government’s vision and strategy for rapid, inclusive, and sustainable development for the period of
2008 to 2011. One of the main pillars of the government’s PRS is the rehabilitation of infrastructure and delivery of basic services. Prior to the PRS, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare developed a national health policy and plan that set the agenda for accessible, equitable, affordable, and sustainable health services for all the Liberian people.

It is within this framework that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare instituted the Basic Package of Health and Social Welfare Services, which seeks to improve the health status of an increasing number of citizens on an equal level through expanded access to effective basic health care backed by adequate referral services and resources. A number of challenges exist in implementing the Basic Package of Health and Social Welfare Services and the PRS pillar of infrastructure and basic services. Among these is the immediate shortage of qualified health care workers.

However, peaceful dispute resolution did not increase perceived property rights, security, and investment among community members either in the short- or long-term. Although, these impacts seem to depend on status. Villagers with political connections did report better security as a result of the intervention, while poorer, less politically connected individuals, and those who did not own their land, felt slightly less secure in treatment villages.

Rural Liberians rely on land for their livelihoods and cultural heritage, but the vast majority lack secure rights to their land.  In some communities, local authorities sell land for personal gain without the agreement of community members. In other areas, the Government has granted concessions to mining, logging, and palm oil companies, and has claimed other land for national parks.

As in many other SSA countries, poverty rates are the highest in rural areas. Poor households tend to have elevated fertility rates; own few assets; and derive most of their income from farming, fishing, and small enterprises. In 2016, the World Bank announced that about 54 percent of the population of Liberia is living below the poverty line on less than $US2.00 a day.

According to the 2016 HIES survey, 50.9 percent of Liberians could not achieve the minimum expenditure to acquire basic food and non-food items. Poverty is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Rural poverty is 71.6 percent compared to urban poverty at 31.5 percent [Chart Above]. Regional poverty was lower in Montserrado, 20.3 percent, followed by 57.2 percent in South Central, 58.4 percent in South Eastern A, 58.6 percent in North Western, and 68.5 percent in the North Central region. The region with the highest poverty level was South Eastern B at 81.3 percent [Chart Below].

Social safety nets are poorly developed. Agricultural production has improved since the end of the war, but the country still depends on food imports and is vulnerable to economic shocks. The country heavily depends on food imports, and rice, the staple grain for most of the population, is imported on a large scale. The impacts of climate change is expected to aggravate the food insecurity situation and increase the risk for low income population to fall deeper into poverty. Agricultural markets are poorly integrated, especially in rural areas, exacerbating food insecurity and poverty. Food insecurity affects 41 percent of the population and chronic malnutrition is high.

For new democracies and societies emerging from conflict, effective systems of dispute resolution are essential to maintaining a lasting peace and preventing violence. In an effort to tackle the huge wave of poverty prevailing in Liberia, the following recommendations may be considered:

  • That the Government formulate and implement agricultural policies which will promote agricultural production for food security and income generation;
  • The general road network be improved, most especially farm to market roads need to be prioritized. This would lead to increase in production, thereby ensuring that farmers generate the income needed to acquire basic amenities;
  • Polices to improve the living standards of persons with disabilities should be formulated since these persons are not able to take up opportunities because they are incapacitated and therefore require special assistance;
  • The adult literacy program should be enhanced so as to increase adult literacy among the population especially among the rural communities;
  • Electric power generation should be prioritized so as to attract investment in agricultural products value addition and other industries which require reliable
    and fairly priced electricity supply; and
  • The Government programs should be scaled up so as to ensure increased
    access to better housing, safe water and proper waste disposal systems in the country.

It is highly important to note that, employment is one of the principal sources of income for the households. Unemployment may be considered as a proxy for poverty. Liberia’s economy limits prospects for formal sector employment; transformation of the agriculture sector is essential for pro-poor growth; investment and job growth in the formal sector are constrained by three main factors; labour-intensive public works programs are necessary for the very poor; and education and training must be improved to enhance employability.

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