Op-Ed: Building partnerships for Restoring Ecosystems in Liberia—our survival and prosperity depend on nature

MONROVIA-On World Environment Day (5 June), the UN Secretary-General launched the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) to prevent and halt further destruction of nature. This decade challenges governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals worldwide to work towards healing Mother Nature. The environment is the source of all our needs, from food and water to energy and jobs. This timely announcement follows the rollout of the UN Decade for Action, which aims at accelerating action and making real progress towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The latest Global Environmental Outlook report states that up to 7 million people die every year from diseases associated with air pollution and another 1.4 million die from diseases associated with drinking untreated water. 

Preserving and restoring our ecosystems can bring benefits that save lives. A healthy ecosystem provides fresh air and clean water. Ecosystem restoration programmes can also generate jobs – in fact, many countries aiming to bounce back from COVID-19 job losses, and to promote climate change adaptation, have launched green, job creating programmes such as fish and tree nurseries, waste collection and recycling enterprises, mangrove restoration and reforestation initiatives, among others. 

Liberia has rich, unique, and diverse ecosystems that can drive sustainable pro-poor prosperity and development. Liberia is the only country in the Upper Guinea forest which still has more than half of its tropical rainforest intact. Its picturesque lakes and rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean, supplying water to farmlands and nourishing other economic activities along the way. Robertsport in Grand Cape Mount County is home to the Lake Piso Multi-Purpose Reserve— the country’s first wetland protection (Ramsar) site, an apt venue for this year’s World Environment Day celebrations. This is a historic city, and UNDP is pleased to see efforts being made to prevent littering and mangrove destruction in this beautiful reserve. Stricter measures are also needed to curb unsustainable fishing practices such as the use of dangerous chemicals, and small nets that catch even hatchlings.  

As Liberia works to restore its ecosystems and deliver on its international commitments to protect the environment, partnerships (national and international) are vital in accelerating progress. UNDP is proud to partner with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a wide range of other national and international institutions in these efforts. For example, UNDP, with support from Denmark, Luxemburg, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, and Switzerland, is partnering with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to pilot financial grants for civil society organizations to mobilize and organize youth eco-brigades to promote public health and safety in their communities. In May, UNDP trained 75 youth volunteers on starting and running businesses focusing on long-term protection of the environment. It was great to also collaborate with the EPA and UN Volunteers including other young people on World Environment Day to clean up the beaches, clear overgrown bush thickets, and educate the community on public health.

UNDP has also collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Liberian Meteorological Services to establish a Climate Change Early Warning system that is providing climate modelling and forecasting information to help farmers and Liberians in general better cope with unpredictable weather patterns. With funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNDP launched a Small Grants Programme to support local NGOs undertake community-based environmental activities such as waste management, climate-smart agriculture including bee farming, and biodiversity conservation, all of which are increasing communities’ resilience to climate change and diversifying their livelihood options. With resources from the GEF, UNDP also worked with the EPA, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and local communities to construct protective revetments to prevent coastal erosion in the face of rising sea levels resulting from climate change. This was done in Buchanan and New Kru Town. Larger scale programmes to protect livelihoods and prevent coastal erosion in West Point and Sinoe will come on stream in the next few months.

Communities around the Grebo-Krahn National Forest and other forest areas are learning new ways to protect the forest ecosystems. Our support to the communities include (i) training women farmers in sustainable agriculture practices; (ii) providing them with portable power tillers; and (iii) distributing seeds to improve food production outside protected areas. Community members are also being trained in sustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products, such as honey.

In partnership with the Government of Liberia and the Embassy of Sweden, UNDP supported Liberia’s ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2018. Today, we continue this collaboration as Liberia revises its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Similarly, UNDP continue to work with the Government of Liberia, the Embassy of Sweden, and other national partners to strengthen governance and environmental management for the artisanal mining sector. Together, we are developing user-friendly tools for artisanal miners and supporting participatory monitoring and multi-stakeholder engagement in the sector.

Working with the Ministry of Health and other national partners, and with funding from the GEF, UNDP is helping to mitigate climate change in Liberia by providing solar energy to 12 rural health centres in 7 counties, thereby increasing access to health services at the Saint Timothy Hospital, Sinje Health Center, Gokala Clinic, Palala Health Center, and Telewoyan Hospital, among others. Our support is powering the most critical services – operating theatres, laboratories, and maternal and child healthcare. 

Our collaboration with the Green Climate Fund resulted in the University of Liberia establishing a graduate program in Environmental Studies and Climate Change to equip more Liberians with skills to explore and develop solutions to reduce ecosystem degradation. 

These examples of work we have achieved together demonstrate that collective action is essential in delivering the critical wins we urgently need in protecting our environment and reversing the damage to our ecosystem. We can act together, including in our families and in our communities, to restore our environment and safeguard Liberia’s natural resources. So, act! Collective action can deliver the impact we want! I encourage you to take small or large actions, either individually, or as groups during this decade of ecosystem restoration to expedite progress in repairing our environment.

We will only be successful in restoring our ecosystem if we work together. As we begin to consider a post-Covid period we have an opportunity to build back better and to do things differently. UNDP will continue to work closely with the Government of Liberia and with civil society organisations, the private sector, and international development partners to protect and rebuild Liberia’s ecosystems. Together, we can restore Liberia’s Ecosystem and protect the environment. Let’s act… together, for a better planet!

Mr. Stephen Rodriques is the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Liberia.

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