Various forms of pollution continue to threaten environmental health and human wellbeing in Liberia.
Liberia is faced with immense challenges and growing concerns regarding the inadequacies of waste management activities in the country. One of the major challenges to Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) management in Liberia is the absence of sufficient and accurate data regarding the physical and chemical composition of waste and the quantity of waste generated throughout the country. In Monrovia, it is estimated that about 800 tons per day of solid domestic waste is collected, representing roughly 45% of the total waste produced in the city. The remaining (around 55%) remains uncollected or is not covered by the solid waste collection system .
The city corporations are responsible for waste collection services in most cities in Liberia, or at times, subcontracted private companies. Generally, the collection of waste is irregular in the absence of a specific weekly schedule for waste collection, and the MSW services (collection up to final disposal) remain largely ineffective. In many urban–rural or rural areas there is a complete absence of waste collection services .
In Liberia, the most practiced methods of waste disposal are open dumping, open burning, waste burial, and landfilling. The practices of indiscriminate dumping and open burning and burial of waste serve as a conduit for the spread of disease and pose a serious threat to public health in the country. Landfill disposal sites are limited to very few cities in the country and are not adequately engineered (absence of leachate and gas collection system) which can result in leakage from the landfill and contamination of surrounding areas. Additionally, engineered sanitary landfills are non-existent within the country for the disposal of hazardous waste. The most common form of landfilling practiced is open swamp filling, which is unsustainable .
Thus, municipal solid waste management is deficient in all its stages and most existent dumping sites become the source of air, soil, and water pollution, release large amounts of GHG, and pose a threat to public health.
Electronic waste is also an emerging challenge in the country. Liberia is experiencing an increase in the importation of electrical and electronic equipment, which once their lifespan has been diminished, often ends up as waste .
Additionally, in accordance with the World Health Organization's guidelines, the air quality in Liberia is considered moderately unsafe. Though data on air quality in Liberia is limited, most recent data in the country indicates that the country's annual mean concentration of PM2.5 exceeds the recommended maximum of 10 µg/m3 . Air pollution from indoor sources is the single largest contributor to the negative health effects of air pollution in Liberia causing an estimated 3,900 premature deaths every year .
Water pollution is a challenge in some areas of the country, due to mining (e.g. iron ore pollutants), farming (e.g. agrochemical runoff) and industrial activities (e.g. discharge from rubber processing) . Studies in Cape Mount County and Bong County recorded mercury levels that were up to 150 times higher than WHO guideline values for drinking water near small-scale gold mining operations. Large-scale gold mining has also been implicated in decreasing pH and higher concentrations of cyanide .
Further, most urban areas do not have wastewater treatment plants or extensive sewerage systems. In the capital, Monrovia, a small sewerage system services 30% of the population, but the Fiamah Wastewater Treatment Plant has not been operational for over 20 years. The Marshall Wetlands in the Farmington River Basin and the Mesurado Wetlands in Monrovia (St. Paul River-Farmington River coastal drainage area) have been severely degraded by municipal waste and wastewater .
Due to rapid urbanization, economic development, higher living standards and changes in consumption patterns and lifestyle, the generation rate of waste has increased. Waste generated are inadequately disposed of due to the inadequate collection system, and large amounts of waste remain uncollected resulting in the practices of open dumping and burning. These waste management challenges have become heightened as a result of insufficient technology to ensure proper management, low budgetary allocations for effective waste management, lack of skilled professionals, poor implementation of regulations to ensure adequate management, and poor public awareness .
Contributors to poor air quality in Liberia include the mining and timber industries, rubber and palm oil processing, vehicle emissions, waste burning, and inefficient fuel burning .
Artisanal and large-scale mining operations and rubber plantations are key sources of surface water pollution and watershed degradation. Additionally, poor sanitation systems and limited solid waste management in cities threaten the country’s water resources .
Key policies and governance approach
The Environment Protection and Management Law (EMPL) (2003) forms the legal framework for sustainable development, management and protection of the environment and natural resources by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) 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 . The law ensures air quality standards and solid waste management and includes a draft legislation on ‘Persistent Organic Pollutants’ and ‘Waste Management’ . The EMPL empowers the EPA to establish water quality standards, water quality monitoring procedures, and the regulation of effluent discharge in consultation with related ministries .
Other policies and legal protocols linked to the management of pollution in Liberia include the Draft Policy: National Healthcare Waste Management Policy, 2009; the Public Health Law of Liberia, 1975; National Health Policy and Plan, Liberia; National Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, 2010; National Environmental Action Plan; and the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. Liberia has also ratified conventions for ecological protection, safety, and reduction of public health threats .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
Responsibilities in Liberia for the management of pollution are distributed across several different institutions with overlapping mandates. Limited coordination across these entities impedes pollution management efforts in the country .
In addition, the existing environmental policies and legislations in place have not yet sufficiently addressed the problem of pollution in the country. For instance, Liberia has not yet developed a comprehensive waste management plan. In the absence of a legal framework to manage waste in Liberia, waste continues to be indiscriminately dumped contributing to the pollution of the environment and the country’s water bodies. The integrated approach to solid waste management (ISWM) is also lacking in Liberia. This serves as a hindrance to tackling MSW management issues due to the lack of strategic planning, which is a core element of the Integrated solid waste management approach (ISWM) .
Specifically, major challenges in Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) management in Liberia range from the absence of an integrated waste management framework which has resulted in inappropriate disposal of waste, inadequate sanitary landfills, the ineffective collaboration between stakeholders, lack of public–private partnerships regarding waste management, the lack of implementation of waste recycling programs, and the lack of economic incentives .
- The first phase to minimizing waste in Liberia should involve the formulation and implementation of a National Waste Management Policy. The development of this policy should prioritize recycling, introduce recycling incentives, and seek to institutionalize the informal recycling sector. The policy should also contain guidelines regarding the responsibilities of waste generators and stakeholders concerned with waste management operations.
- Adoption of the Integrated Solid Waste Management approach (ISWM).
- Liberia should initiate the switch from a linear economy to a circular economy.
- Facilitate public participation, institute educational programs at various schools and universities regarding pollution, and encourage educational awareness campaigns regarding the adverse effects of pollution on public and environment health.
- Prioritize the safe management of household and hazardous waste and treat waste management as an urgent and essential public service to prevent threats to the environment and the spread of COVID-19.
- Encourage educational awareness regarding waste segregation at the source, and recycling of recyclable materials.
- Adopt the treatment of waste as a resource.
- Establish public–private partnerships for MSW management.
- Introduction of organic waste composting could be considered to convert organic waste into useful agricultural products.
- Ensure proper monitoring of waste management services.
- Improve access to clean fuels for cooking.
 David, V.E., John, Y. and Hussain, S., (2020). Rethinking sustainability: a review of Liberia’s municipal solid waste management systems, status, and challenges. Journal of Material Cycles and Waste Management, 22(5), pp.1299-1317.
 IAMAT (2020). [Online]. Available: https://www.iamat.org/country/liberia/risk/air-pollution.
 David Jr, Victor & Jiang, Wenchao & John, Yasinta & Mmereki, Daniel & Emery, Victor. (2019). Solid Waste Management in Monrovia, Liberia: Implications for Sustainable Development. Journal of Solid Waste Technology and Management. 45. 10.5276/JSWTM.2019.10.