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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Facts about Liberia

Although we are going to be working in Margibi, Bong, and Nimba counties, this information is relevant and applies to the entire country.

With the approach of the rainy season in a month's time, concerns are growing about the condition of roads and of accessibility to rural communities in many parts of rural Liberia. During the rainy season, poor road condition hampers mobility and road travel, cuts off large parts of rural Liberia, and prevents humanitarian and development agencies from accessing people in these communities.

There is an estimated 10,600 km of major roadways in Liberia. Of these, 657 km are paved and 9,943 km are unpaved. Fourteen years of war and crumbling road infrastructure led to a gradual reduction in the number of paved roads. The paucity of data on the status of roads and bridges in the country poses a difficulty in determining where the greatest needs lie. Moreover, most road rehabilitation projects in the past involved only the side brushing or grading of roads. As such, a road that is rehabilitated in the dry season may deteriorate during the next rainy season, thereby removing it from the list of roads that were in good condition a few months back.

Parts of the country most affected by lack of road infrastructure are Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties (in the northwest) and Grand Kru, Rivercess, River Gee and Sinoe Counties (in the southeast). Three of the six districts in Lofa County were inaccessible by car during the peak of the rainy season in 2006. In Gbarpolu County, Kongba and Belle-Fassama Districts were cut off from the county's two other districts (i.e. Bopolu and Gbarma). In Grand Kru, the entire county, save parts of Lower Kru Coast District, was inaccessible year-round. Over half of the land area of River Gee, Sinoe and Rivercess Counties were disconnected from the rest of the country by poor roads and bridges during the 2006 rainy season.

Many communities in Liberia are 'underserved' because of their lack of road infrastructure, which hampers access for humanitarian and development actors. Particularly, in the southeast of Liberia, communities lag behind in terms of access to healthcare, education, safe drinking water, improved hygiene and other facilities. For example, according to the Comprehensive Food Security and Nutrition Survey (CFSNS, 2006), in relatively accessible Bong and Grand Cape Mount Counties, access to improved water sources is 41% and 43%, respectively. In less accessible Grand Kru and Rivercess Counties, only 7% and 22% of people, respectively, have access to safe drinking water. The differentials in the indicators for health, education and food production indicate a strong relationship between road access and levels of service provision.

The most sustainable remedy to the current poor road conditions in Liberia is the construction of paved roads. However, the Government of Liberia and its partners cannot presently afford this huge investment. They are instead concentrating on the maintenance and repair of tarmac roads, grading and side-brushing of unpaved roads, and repair/construction of bridges along the roads that are being rehabilitated.

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