Liberia is located on the Atlantic Coast in the southern part of West Africa and covers an area of 111,369 km². The country borders Côte d’Ivoire to the east, Sierra Leone to the west, Guinea to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south with a 350-mile coastline , , . Topographically Liberia is diverse, ranging from features of coastal plains, lagoons, and mangrove marshlands to rainforests and plateaus rolling towards the interior. The Northern Highlands mark the highest elevation; the highest point solely within Liberia is Mount Wutivi (known as Wologizi) at 1,440 meters above sea level . Six major rivers traverse the northern and southern boundaries of the country, of which the Cavalla River is the longest. Two major lakes are also found in the country.
Liberia has a tropical climate with heavy rainfall from May to October and a short interlude in mid-July to August. The dry season extends from November to April. Liberia is endowed with several explored and unexplored natural resources .
Liberia’s population is estimated at 4.2 million (48.9% male and 51.1% female) , as of 2016 (date of the last National Population Census). Liberia’s population is expected to reach 6.4 million inhabitants by 2030 , and 10.3 million by 2050. By 2050, more than 70% of the population are expected to be living in coastal cities, including Monrovia, Liberia’s capital . Liberia has sixteen indigenous ethnic groups and several foreign minorities. Indigenous groups account for 95% of the population. The recognized ethnic groups include the Gio (or Dan), Mano, Bassa, Kpelle, Grebo, Vai, Gola, Kru, Krahn, Kissi, Gbandi, Mandingo (or Mandinka), Dei (or Dewoin), Bella, Mende and Lorma .
The spatial distribution of the population is highly uneven. Nearly two-thirds of the population currently live in the Montserrado and the North Central statistical regions comprising four counties. Within this geographic space, unplanned urbanization continues to accelerate at an unprecedented pace .
Liberia has been experiencing a rapid urbanisation process as a result of population growth in urban zones and rural-to-urban migration . Approximately 51.6% of the population currently live in urban areas and this is projected to increase to 57.3% and 68.2% of the population by 2030 and 2050, respectively . A distinguishing feature of Liberia’s urbanisation is the concentration of the nation’s urban population in its largest city, Monrovia . Currently, about 31.5% of Liberia’s population lives in Montserrado, where the capital Monrovia is situated .
The rapid growth in the size and number of informal settlements in urban areas is now a significant health risk and could impose a potential threat to peace and stability over the long term if left unresolved. Residents of informal settlement generally have little or no security of title to the land they occupy, and they face severe income insecurity. Unemployment is twice as high in urban areas than rural areas and three times as high among the youthful population. Moreover, access to basic services such as electricity, water, and sanitation in some informal settlements is worse than in rural areas. Approximately 56% of the labor force reside in urban areas .
To address urban challenges and maximize the opportunities offered by urbanization, the government is working closely with UN-Habitat to develop a National Urban Policy to integrate the urban economy into national development policies and help create the conditions for Liberia to achieve its long-term development goal of reaching middle-income status by 2030 .
The country has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.95 billion (in 2020). As of 2020, the country’s GDP is dominated by the agriculture sector (inclusive of fishing and forestry), which accounts for an estimated 42.6% of GDP, the industry sector (including mining, construction, electricity, water and gas) which contributes 11.7% of GDP, and the services sector comprising 49.7% of GDP .
Liberia has made significant economic and development progress since the end of its civil war in 2003 . The country’s economy has experienced high growth since 2006 despite a decline from 2008 to 2010 largely attributed to the global financial crisis. The economy rebounded in 2011 with a combined increase in economic activities from the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors contributing 41% of the GDP and providing employment for 47% of the labor force. These sectors were driven by increased exports, especially in forestry, fisheries and rubber, followed by subsistence production of cassava and rice. The emergence of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in 2014, resulted in the subsequent decline in the country’s economy between 2015 and 2018. Liberia’s economy was projected to rebound in 2020, but due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the economy suffered further declines . However, Liberia’s economy is projected to expand by an average of 4.9% in 2022-23. Growth will be driven mainly by the mining sector and external demand. Structural reforms are expected to increase activity in mining, agriculture, and construction and per capita GDP is expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels by 2023 .
Liberia is regarded as a low-income country . It ranked 175 out of 189 countries and territories worldwide in the UNDP’s 2019 Human Development Index, with a value of 0.480, placing the country in the low human development category . Poverty is widespread in Liberia, affecting most of the population . According to the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey, the most recent nationally representative data source on poverty rates in Liberia, 50.9% of the Liberian population, or about 2.2 million people, live in poverty, and about 16.5% in extreme poverty. Additionally, some 39.1% of the population were experiencing food poverty , . Poverty rates are twice as high in rural areas, with rural poverty at 71.6%, compared with 31.5% in urban areas . There are also noticeable regional differences in extreme poverty, with the highest levels affecting River Gee and Maryland counties in the country's southeastern part .
Progress has been made in developing the necessary framework for the expansion of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)/telecommunications in Liberia, with the Telecommunications Act passed in 2007. In 2011, the first fiber optic cable, Africa Coast to Europe, landed in Liberia to facilitate the construction of a backbone infrastructure to increase accessibility, reliability, and affordability of telecommunications services. A Metro-Monrovia Ring is under construction and, when completed, will improve connectivity and reduce the cost of telecommunications services in the Greater Monrovia area .
Despite the progress, weak policy and regulatory regime, and inadequately trained personnel available to companies and organizations in the industry remain major constraints to growth. Limited telecommunication/ICT infrastructure, especially in rural/ remote areas, leave communities marginalized. The government intends to make Liberia a technology-enabled society with telecommunication/ICT playing a fundamental role in job creation and improvement in the quality of life for all citizens. As outlined in the country’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development 2018 to 2023 (PAPD), the government will expand the fiber optic infrastructure, including industrial installation to cover 30% access to the fiber-optic backbone and ensure universal access and services to marginalized communities, women, rural dwellers, and physically challenged populations , .
Liberia has experienced various naturally triggered and human induced disasters, including wars, epidemics, landslides, floods, fires, sea erosion, windstorms, and rainstorms. As the country’s level of preparedness is inadequate, it remains highly vulnerable to the consequences of disasters . Vulnerability is exacerbated due to the country’s high level of poverty and high dependence on climate change sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, mining and forestry .
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the regulatory Institution of the Government of Liberia for the sustainable management of the environment and its natural resources. The EPA operates on three basic legal Instruments: the National Environmental Policy (NEP), the Environmental Management and Protection Law and the Environment Protection Agency Act of Liberia .
The National Environmental Policy (2003) was formulated to recognize the severe impact of human activities on all components of the natural environment, especially the influences of population dynamics, high density urbanization, and resource exploitation, as well as to recognize the critical importance of restoring and maintaining environmental quality for the welfare and development of the people. The aim of the NEP is to ensure the improvement of the physical environment, the quality of life of the people, and the economic and social living conditions of the entire citizenry. It seeks to ensure reconciliation and coordination between economic development and growth with the sustainable management of natural resources .
The Environment Protection and Management Law (2003) forms the legal framework for sustainable development, management and protection of the environment and natural resources by the Environment Protection Agency in partnership with relevant ministries, autonomous agencies, and organizations, as well as in a close and responsive relationship with the people of Liberia. It addresses a wide range of environmental issues, including environmental impact assessment, guidelines and standards, international obligations, education, and awareness .
EPA collaborates with several key entities including the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning which serves as chair of the EPA’s Board, Forestry Development Authority, Ministry of Agriculture, National Disaster Management Agency, Ministry of Mines and Energy, Ministry of Internal Affairs, among others .
At the regional level, Liberia cooperates with a wide range of actors that play a crucial role in the protection and management of the environment, including Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), the Mano River Union (MRU), the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA), and the African Union (AU). The country is also a member of the West African Power Pool.
At the global level, the country has signed up to Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and is a party to several multilateral environmental agreements, including on climate change, biodiversity, and pollution.
The EU is currently providing development assistance to Liberia in several ways, in support of Liberia’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) . The PAPD is structured around four pillars: Power to the People, the Economy and Jobs, Sustaining the Peace, and Governance and Transparency. It is aligned with the African Union Agenda 2063 and matches high-level national targets with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) indicators. However, the implementation of the development agenda remains hampered by insufficient capacity and financial resources and a narrow fiscal space .
Taking into account the vast needs of Liberia and the limited number of actors and funds, EU-Liberia partnership for 2021-2027 will focus on: (i) Enhancing and preserving natural resources for sustainable growth; (ii) Promoting decent jobs and inclusive growth; and (iii) Improving financial and democratic governance. Priority areas are aligned with the PAPD and the EU Green Deal and will support Liberia in achieving the targets set out by its NDC . Liberia’s revised NDC commits to reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 64% below the projected business-as-usual level by 2030, in line with the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’, a commitment to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) .
Additionally, the Liberia-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement entered into force on 1 December 2013 . It aims to ensure that Liberia produces and exports only legal timber and timber products by improving forest governance and law enforcement. Although VPAs are primarily concerned with international trade, Liberia decided to include the production of timber for the domestic market in its agreement, including informal activities such as chainsaw logging, a key driver of deforestation in the country .
Liberia is recognised as highly vulnerable to climate change, particularly for the coastal zones, public health, agriculture, water, and fishery sectors , .
Sea level in the country is projected to rise 0.13-0.56 m by the 2090s, relative to the sea level from 1980-1999. Sea level rise and associated coastal flooding can lead to erosion of the coastline, damage to houses and infrastructure, and poor sanitation of land and aquifers. The coastal zone is one of Liberia’s greatest environmental and economic assets and is home to around 70% of Liberia’s population . Already, 0.8 km² of land has been lost in recent decades due to coastal erosion, impacting infrastructure and nearby population centers . Additionally, since 2013, sea level rise and coastal erosion have displaced more than 6,500 people and destroyed 800 houses in the West Point slum of Monrovia.
Estimates suggest that more than 230,000 people are at risk and 2,150 km² will be lost with a one- meter rise in sea level by the end of the century. Damages and loss (infrastructure and land) for major cities such as Monrovia, New Kru Town, River Cess, Buchanan and Robertsport are estimated at $250 million, according to estimates from 2017 , .
Liberia ranks low on nutrition indicators due to persistent food insecurity from low agricultural output, high reliance on food imports, and weak infrastructure, all of which are impacted by climate variability and change. In the country, food insecurity is widespread, with the highest rates of food insecurity found in Bomi, Grand Kru and River Cess counties. Agricultural yields of subsistence crops (rice and maize) are some of the lowest in the region; these yields will be further threatened by higher temperatures and increased rainfall variability. Liberia imports 73% of its food needs and interruptions in transport conduits in the regional market due to a more variable climate, coupled with higher food prices, threaten further the country’s food security. Food security will also be threatened by declines in biodiversity and overall fish stocks due to rising sea surface temperatures .
Liberia is the most forested country in West Africa . The county’s forests constitute by far the largest remaining blocks of the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem making them a global hotspot for biodiversity. If managed sustainably, these forests and associated landscapes have the potential to serve as drivers for economic development, ensuring good governance and contributing to poverty alleviation. However, there has been numerous challenges in the sustainable management of these forests and related landscapes which continue to be exposed to numerous natural and anthropogenic threats .
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