Monrovia’s Golden Moment

This is a guest blog by Rev Isaac Wheigar.  Isaac is the General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Liberia (AEL), which aims to promote peace through the local church and advocate for the poor and marginalised.

Rev Isaac Wheigar, General Secretary of AEL

Rev Isaac Wheigar, General Secretary of AEL. Source AEL

This week Monrovia, the capital of my country Liberia, is hosting the next stage of global talks on what happens after the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015 .

The UN High Level Panel meeting will look at the national building blocks for sustained prosperity and, as we are in the business of rebuilding our lives and our nation after civil war, Liberians have much to contribute to this meeting.

The current MDGs have done a good job of focusing attention on some important areas that need to be tackled – like health, education and access to water and sanitation. But while there has been some progress in some areas, it has been patchy and the figures demonstrate the high levels of inequality that still face us across the globe. The political barriers to decreasing this inequality and to ensuring our planet’s resources are protected and shared more fairly just haven’t been addressed.

That’s the message we want the UN panel to hear and implement – we need a new model of growth which has the building blocks of peace, equality, transparent governance and environmental sustainability.

Liberia’s challenge

As one the largest Christian networks in Liberia, AEL works with those who have suffered from the damaging consequences of civil war. We resettle displaced families from refugee camps to their local villages. This can be a very traumatic process so in addition to providing emotional care we are also involved in physical development by distributing food packages and rebuilding homes.

But we continue to see the growing inequalities within communities, particularly for displaced people who lack the security, education, health, income, and employment opportunities to lift themselves out of the poverty trap.

A root cause of this is the global obsession with economic growth at any cost – exploiting the environment, widening the gap between the wealthy and poor, fueling corruption and conflict over land and resources – has not resulted in fair, prosperous and flourishing nations.

For instance our water and sanitation services deteriorated as a result of the civil war. Many people had no choice but to drink from local creeks, which also serve as their latrine, leading to diarrhea .  This is why we advocate for a Water Supply and Sanitation Commission to improve delivery especially in hard to reach communities.

Clean water collected in Liberia. Source Tearfund.

Clean water collected in Liberia. Source Tearfund.

While most of the world is on track to meet the drinking water MDG target – to halve the proportion of people without safe water and basic sanitation – Liberia is not. Neither is any other country affected by conflict. Approximately 1.2 million Liberians – that’s 32 per cent of the population – lack access to safe drinking water and 83 per cent do not have access to sanitation. Girls suffer most as they bear the burden of collecting water and suffer from lack of privacy in open defecation which makes them vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence.

This kind of inequality can’t continue. While the world has set overall goals to halve poverty, if the poorest are left behind then we are all poorer for it. We need to set goals which don’t just measure overall progress but which seek to improve the lives of the poorest and most marginalised – like girls collecting water in Liberia.

Liberian girls collecting clean water from a village pump. Source Tearfund.

Liberian girls collecting clean water from a village pump. Source Tearfund.

That’s why we can’t rely on aspirational global goals, but we also need national level targets which set out the ambition to reduce inequality in access, to make sure that the poorest men, women, girls and boys see a tangible difference in their lives too.

The church around the world also has an important role to play in reminding our leaders what the point of the new framework for development should be and what values should drive it.

The widow who lost her spouse in conflict, the unemployed farmer who lost his livelihood due to climate change, the child suffering from diarrhoea who cannot access safe drinking water – we owe it to them to address not just their symptoms but the root causes of their distress.

I pray that the meeting in Monrovia doesn’t just focus on technical solutions to specific problems, but helps to build consensus around a new vision for development which is fairer and puts our planet on a sustainable footing.

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