Liberia has abundant water resources throughout the country. Water availability per capita is the third highest in Sub-Saharan Africa at 49,028 m³, although dry season flows can be low. Low flows on the St. Paul River significantly reduces hydropower generation at the Mount Coffee Dam, which is the largest source of municipal power and a major source of electricity for Monrovia .
Additionally, water quality is poor in some areas of Liberia 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 discharge .
Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water in rural and urban areas and is used by over 70% of the population. Limited drinking water quality studies in the country indicate widespread risks from microbial contamination. A 2011 survey of groundwater quality in Monrovia found that E. Coli was present in all unprotected wells, 52% of protected hand dug wells, and 44% of drilled wells .
Liberia is one of the sub-Saharan African countries with the lowest coverage of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services . According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program, as of 2020, 75.3% of the population have access to at least basic drinking water services (85.5% urban vs 64.1% rural), up almost 2% from 2017. For sanitation services, as of 2020, only 18.2% of the population have access to at least basic sanitation services (29.0% urban vs 6.4% rural). Overall, an estimated 37% of the population still practices open defecation .
The water resource potential of the country is enormous but lacks adequate and proper management. This situation was exacerbated by the effects of the civil war , which severely damaged much of the country’s infrastructure and significantly undermined the delivery of water and sanitation services in Liberia . Today, the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector in Liberia faces governance, capacity, and financial constraints that hinder access to improved water and sanitation services .
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 .
Further, changes in seasonal rainfall patterns and rising temperatures due to climate change will negatively impact the water balance by decreasing total water levels and/or degrading water quality through contamination. Runoff in the St. Paul River Basin is projected to decrease 0.7–25% by the 2020s due to precipitation and temperature changes, impacting potential hydropower production at the Mount Coffee plant as well as the water supply for Monrovia .
In urban areas, intense precipitation is likely to impact the water infrastructure, as the increased volumes of water overwhelm sewer systems and water treatment plants. This could also lead to an increase in the amount of runoff into rivers and lakes, washing sediment, nutrients, pollutants, trash, animal waste, and other materials into water supplies making them unusable, unsafe, or in need of water treatment and increasing cost for water purification to supply potable water to communities .
Over 30% of Liberia’s population still practice open defecation. Increased rainfall, flooding and increased heat are expected to increase sanitation vulnerabilities by further increasing the prevalence of water and vector-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrheal diseases .
Key policies and governance approach
Water resources management responsibilities in Liberia are distributed across several different ministries. Water quality monitoring and data management responsibilities are shared between the Liberian Hydrological Service (LHS), Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, and the Liberia EPA . In 2009, the Government adopted the National Integrated Water Resources Management Policy to assist decisionmakers and resource users in determining the roles and responsibilities of various public and private actors in water resources management .
The Environment Protection and Management Law (EPML) (2003) empowers the Liberia Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish water quality standards, water quality monitoring procedures, and the regulation of effluent discharge in consultation with related ministries. Additionally, the Public Health Law of Liberia, revised in 2019, prohibits the discharge of sewage, agricultural, or industrial wastes into Liberian waters without permission .
The Water Supply and Sanitation Policy 2009 sets the vision and guiding principles to promote sector reform for the rapid expansion and sustainable delivery of water and sanitation services in Liberia. It is the government’s commitment to provide guidance and direction in institutional, economic and legal reforms that will lead to improved water governance at national, local, and community levels, and improved access to safe water supply and adequate sanitation .
The WASH Compact 2011 set out a roadmap of themes based on four key commitments and related cross-cutting issues : (i) Establish and strengthen institutional capacity; (ii) Ensure equity and prioritised service provision; (iii) Develop a monitoring system; and (iv) Improve sector financing mechanisms . The WASH Sector Strategic Plan 2012-2017 provided detailed guidance to the institutional responsibilities and strategies for implementing the WASH Compact and the sector policies. Additionally, the Government of Liberia prepared the WASH Sector Investment Plan (SIP) 2012-2017 that provided details on the investment plans to WASH activities for the five years, and the Sector Capacity Development Plan 2012-2017 which identified areas needed for capacity development based on the findings of a needs assessment in WASH .
The National Water Resources and Sanitation Board (NWRSB) was established in 2015, chaired by the President to address the uncoordinated and fragmented nature of WASH governance and implementation. The National Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Committee, a high-level, multisectoral, multi-stakeholder committee that serves as a technical advisory body for the NWRSB, monitors achievement of WASH targets and activities outlined in the WASH Sector Strategic Plan , .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
The Government of Liberia (GoL) faces several challenges in the WASH sector related to the significant commitment required to prioritize the sector; the substantial financial resources needed; the coordination of several ministries, agencies and development partners on investments; and the capacity building required for the implementation of WASH activities .
Water resources management responsibilities are distributed across several different ministries and limited coordination across these entities impedes water management efforts in the country. It has been recommended by the World Bank that a dedicated ministry for water resources and sanitation is created to consolidate sector activities, funding allocations, and capacity within one institution . This would improve coordination and help to streamline cost-effective expenditure of funds in the sector .
According to the World Bank, the Government’s financial allocation to WASH is alarmingly low . The ministries collectively receive less than 1% of the national budget while donor contributions constitute 94% of the sector’s funding . Liberia’s WASH Sector Investment Plan estimated that for the period 2012-2017 approximately US$120 million per year for the five years was needed to stay on track to achieve the targets set by the country’s WASH policies. However, during the fiscal year 2015 - 2016, and 2016 - 2017, annual allocation for the WASH sector, including both GoL and donor funds, was 44.8 million and 42.7 million respectively, only 22% of what was required to meet the targets. Among available funds, Urban WASH received the most, while Rural WASH received the smallest amount of funds in the WASH sub-sector contributing to regional disparities in WASH services .
While the NWRSB is meant to play a key role in coordinating water management efforts, it lacks the necessary human and financial resources. National and local management entities and institutions generally lack sufficient levels of staffing. The national IWRM Policy cites ‘brain drain’ as a key challenge to the sector .
The impacts of low funding and technical capacity are far reaching and lead to elevated risks from flooding and water pollution, especially in Monrovia. Like many other cities, Monrovia has poorly developed storm water management infrastructure, wastewater treatment and sewerage systems, and inadequate urban planning, zoning, and policy enforcement. With underdeveloped sanitation and flood control measures, the wet season routinely disperses sewage and solid waste throughout Monrovia, deteriorating public health, livelihoods, and infrastructure .
Initiatives and Development Plans
The Government launched the One WASH Program in 2018 to modernize the way WASH services are delivered to the communities in Liberia and thereby contributing to economic growth and poverty reduction. The One WASH Program provided a platform for a single annual work plan, annual budget, information system, monitoring and evaluation system, and reporting system .
The GEF-funded “Mano River Ecosystem Conservation and International Water Resources Management (IWRM) Project” is being implemented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It targets the conservation and sustainable use of the transboundary water basins and biodiversity resources within the Mano River Union member states. The project is being implemented in the Upper Guinea forest covering Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire with the objective of strengthening the management of transboundary natural resources for sustained ecological benefits and improved livelihoods for the forest adjacent communities .
- Liberia needs to increase WASH budget allocation, effectively integrate the WASH sector, and continue the dialogue with development partners.
- Strengthen the capacity of existing cross-ministerial coordination bodies including National Water Resources and Sanitation Board (NWRSB) and the National Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion Committee (NWSHPC).
- Establish a comprehensive financing policy for the WASH sector and better prioritize future donor funds.
- Strengthen institutional capacity to manage public finance and coordinate development partners’ fund for the water sector.
- Consider the benefits of a self-contained Ministry of Water Resources and Sanitation to manage holistic integrated water related issues as a long-term objective.
- Rural WASH must develop clear roles and responsibilities of actors, enhance operational capacity and revise the accreditation process for NGOs.
- Organize a task force to legally clarify roles & responsibilities of different actors in rural WASH at the county level.
- Solid Waste Management in Monrovia needs to revisit its contractual agreements with community-based organizations and the private sector, improve operational capacity and strengthen communication with its citizens.
- Develop a Waste Management Strategy to provide clear vision and direction for bringing in donor partners and private capital.
- Encourage private sector participation in the sector.
- Support the protection of river catchments and other sources of freshwater (including aquifers) in order to secure a steady supply of freshwater across all sectors and communities.
- A Vulnerability Assessment should be conducted on Liberia’s Water Resources sector, inclusive of the mapping, documentation and dissemination of necessary information to stakeholders.
- Climate change impacts in Liberia should be mainstreamed in all water resources management plans and programs to secure environmental safety and sustainable fresh water supply for the country in the immediate, near and long-term future.
 WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (2021). Liberia. [Online]. Available: https://washdata.org/data/household#!/table?geo0=country&geo1=LBR.
 World Bank. 2011. Water Supply and Sanitation in Liberia : Turning Finance into Services for 2015 and Beyond. An AMCOW country status overview;. Nairobi. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/17765 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
 Globalwaters.org, USAID. [Online]. Available: https://www.globalwaters.org/wherewework/africa/liberia.
 GEF-IUCN MRU IWRM Project (2019). [Online]. Available: https://iwrm.fda.gov.lr/about/.