The Ganta Tropical Storm: A Challenge to Liberia’s Environment

By Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 18, 2007


In March 2007, a severe tropical storm raked and disrupted normal life for the people of Ganta in Northern Liberia. The storm left scores of people severely injured, and destroyed close to 200 residential homes, offices, schools, and a hospital building. Indeed, the people of Ganta definitely deserve special care and attention for this great misfortune. However, unless, corrective steps are taken in the immediate future to compensate for years of unregulated mining, hunting, farming, and deforestation activities across Liberia, the Ganta tropical storm will be only a symptom of the many environmental problems that Liberia is likely to face now and in the future.

Ganta, like most parts of Liberia, was a flushing virgin forestland until the 1920s when the Liberian government obtained a $5 million loan from the American company, Firestone Plantations Company, at a 7 percent interest rate to offset some of its cash flow liquidity problems. The government was seriously behind in meeting its monthly payroll and other expenditures, which resulted in the intermittent payments of civil servant salaries, so the loan seemed like a very good idea. But the loan negotiations also netted Firestone a lucrative 99-year deal with the Liberian government to purchase Liberian virgin forestlands at the sweetheart rate of six cents per acre to construct a number of rubber plantations in Liberia to fuel the company’s tire business.

Under this 1926 agreement, Firestone obtained 130,000 acres of land at Harbel, near Liberia’s current international airport, and 20,000 acres of land in Harper in Southeastern Liberia. The total acreage of land Firestone purchased for its rubber plantations in Liberia exceeded one million in latter years, but the massive clearing by Firestone of virgin Liberian forestlands to plant rubber trees was the beginning of Liberia’s current environmental problems, as other companies followed the Firestone example by clearing an additional 1.9 million acres of virgin forestlands across Liberia between 1949 and 1959 for the planting of rubber. The Liberia Company (1949) of American and Liberian shareholders operated on 100,000 acres in Montserrado County, followed by the B. F. Goodrich Company (1954) with 600,000 acres of land north of Monrovia in the present Bomi County. The Liberian Agricultural Company (1959) of Italian shareholders and the Salala Rubber Corporation (1959) of joint Dutch-German/private Liberian operated on 600,000 acres of land each in Grand Bassa and Bong Counties, respectively. In fact, a total of 460 smaller privately-owned rubber plantations were operational in Liberia alongside these big companies in the 1950s alone.

Apart from the rubber plantations, many cocoa plantations also sprang up in Liberia between 1977 and 1982 that resulted in further cutting down of about 85,000 acres of the country’s virgin forestlands. Of the 85,000 acres, the Liberia Coffee and Cocoa Corporation (LCCC), in the 1970s operated two cocoa plantations in Lofa County (36, 700-acre) and in Nimba County (31,500-acre), where Ganta is also located, while the remaining 16,800 acres were operated on by domestic cocoa farmers in various parts of Liberia. More than 92,000 acres of virgin forestlands were also cleared in Nimba and Bong Counties for the planting of coffee, while by 1983, more than 35,000 acres of virgin forestlands in Sinoe, Grand Bassa, and Nimba counties had been cleared for oil palms plantations. These oil palms plantations were operated by such companies as Liberia Produce & Marketing Corporation (LPMC), Liberia Palm and Produce Corporation (LPPC), Butuo Oil Palm Corporation (BOPC), and the Decoris Oil Palm Corporation (DOPC). LPPC also operated a 20,000-acre coconuts plantation in Greenville, Sinoe County.

In addition, the 1950s and 1960s saw the beginning of iron ore mining operations in Liberia, which added greatly to the country’s current environmental problems as well. The Liberia Mining Company (LMCO), a Liberian-American joint venture, began operations in Bomi Hills near Monrovia in 1952, followed in 1953 by the Liberian American Minerals Company (LAMCO) in Nimba County. LAMCO set about its 70-year ore exploration deal with the Liberian government by clearing 500 square miles of the country's highest range, Mount Nimba, near Ganta, the scene of the recent tropical storm. In 1958, the German-Liberian Mining Company (DELIMCO) cut down trees in the virgin forests covering its 30-squaremile concession area, while in 1960 the National Iron Ore Company (NIOC), a majority Liberian government- owned primarily cut down trees at its operation site in Mano River, near the Liberian-Sierra Leonean border. Regrettably as Liberia became the 11th largest iron-producing country in the world, it also accumulated enormous environmental problems associated with ore mining and other operations that involved the felling of trees in the country’s virgin forestlands.

The fast pace nature of unregulated timber exploitation in the Liberian virgin forests in the 1980s, 1990s, and up to the mid-2000s at the height of the 14-year Liberian civil war from 1989 to 2003 also seriously undermined the Liberian virgin forestlands. Hence, today, after decades of uncoordinated and unregulated rubber, iron ore, coffee, cocoa, and timber operations resulting in chemical wastes, pollution, and mass migration of people to communities catering to these mining operations, Liberia has now lost more than 85% of its virgin productile forest to the concessions. This also means that the land to population ratio of these trees cutting commercial plantations is very high, and poses a major environmental threat to country and its people.

Indeed, if one could take a cursory look at some of the companies that contributed to the growing environmental degradation of Liberia, one is apt to find no less than these 74 companies: Firestone, The Liberia Company, The African Fruit Company, LeTourneau of Liberia, Juan Jesus Ramos Associates Plantations, Maryland Wood Processing Industries, and Woodland Logging Company Oriental Timber Company/NLI, Inland Logging Company, Royal Timber Corporation, United Logging Corporation, Togba Timber Company, The Liberia Operations Inc. , The West African Agricultural Corporation, The B.F. Goodridge Company, The Liberian Agricultural Company / Uniroyal , The Salala Rubber Corporation, Alan L. Grant (Liberia) Inc., Industrial Trading Trust, Liberian Industrial Forestry Corp, Morro River Lumber Corp, Liberian Timber Industries Corp, Siga Lumber Company, Maryland Logging Company, MIM Timber Company, Bolado Sawmill Company, Talk Lumber Company, East Asiatic Company, Lofa Timber Company, Liberian Eastern Timber Company, Cestos Nimba Logging Corp, Liberian Logging & Wood Processing Corp, Lofa-River Cess Lumber Corp, PPP Timber Industries Ltd, Bell Timber Company, Cape Palmas Logging Corp, Dunbar Logging Corp, Liberian-Ivorian Logging Company, Liberian & Overseas Ventures Corp, MACARS Timber Corp, Jlao Enterprises Inc, NACA Enterprises Inc., Tropical Farms Corp., Yah River Logging Corp., International Wood Corp., Liberian Timber Corp., Nimba Logging Corp., Varjan Logging Corp., Associated Liberian Timber Corp., Lofa Lumber Corp., Toweh Logging Corp., Liberian Timber & Plywood Corp. Mohammed Group of Companies, Iberic Liberia Forest Corporation, Cavalla Timber Company, Liberia Wood Management Company/CBI, DGL, DABA , Akari Timber Industry, TUTEX, Xanon Liberia Limited, American Wood Processing Company, FORUM, Forest Hill Corporation, FAPCO, Bureaux Ivorian Ngorian, Tropical Logging Company, GAMMA, RGMM, Tropical Lumber Company, YLII.

What Caused the Ganta Strom?
Scientists believe that because the Earth's atmosphere is always in a fluid motion, it must work continuously to secure a balance in temperature irregularities based on the climates of specific regions of the world. The earth’s atmosphere does this by ensuring that temperature of each region stays undisturbed within a 20 to 30-year period during which the average weather condition for each region is formed. For example, the annual precipitation along Liberian coastal region is the heaviest at about 5080 mm in the northeast to about 2540 mm in the southeast, with the temperature fluctuating between rainy season and dry season. Each season last about six months, with the rainy season from late April to mid November, and the dry season from mid November to April. the atmosphere is very stable with little vertical mixing during the dry season, and what we called Liberian climate usually takes 20-30 years to form and should remain undisturbed unless through systematic exploration of virgin forestlands, mountains, rivers, and swamps, trees felling and other operations that undermine the environment.

In other words, at independence in 1847, Liberia had 99.9 percent of virgin forest and more than 44.5% of the Guinean forest ecosystem, or a forestland with rich biodiversity that boasted of more than 2000 species of plants, including 240 valuable timber species. But the environmental situation in Liberia worsen ever since the 1926 agreement with Firestone that led to the massive felling of trees in Liberian virgin forestlands by Firestone, B.F. Goodrich, and other companies for various rubber, coffee, cocoa, coffee, timber, and iron ore mining operations. Indeed, at the time of the discovery of iron ore ridden Mt. Nimba in the late 1960, the area called Ganta and Yekepa were completely covered by 99.5% virgin forestlands. However, the virgin forestlands in these areas were wiped up overtime though massive deforestation (land clearing), road building, and destruction of vital species, habitats, and mountain ranges. The large-scale deforestation as a result of opencast, open-pit or open - cut mining operations, railway construction over steep mountains to transport iron ores to port, and the construction mining camps removed majestic hardwood trees such as ebony, mahogany, wisemore, walnut, makore, sikon, ironwood, leafy, emerald canopies up to 60 meters high across the nation.

In particular, the LAMCO mining operations in Nimba County contributed to the speedy growth to places Saclepea, Tapita, Sanniquellie, Lepula, Diallah, Zekepa, Buchanan, and Ganta, with massive tree felling operations. As a result, Ganta, like any part of Liberia in term of its environment, is not the same as it once was. In fact, Ganta’s displaced population from the 14-year Liberian civil war did alter the natural landscapes of Ganta, most notably trees such as palms that once surrounded some of these areas were cut down for cabbage. Noticeably, almost all the cotton trees commonly called “yaw-yaw” have been cut down because it is affordable plank for construction. Ganta’s swamps, wooded hills and semideciduous shrublands in its immediate interior, dense tropical forests, and plateaus immediately became exploited during the civil war as commercial and illegal logging, mining, slash-and-burn agriculture took root. Hence, the storm that hit Ganta would have hit any region of Liberia as along as the condition that facilitates its formation exists and the region is in the wind direction. Usually, a storm of moderate intensity of 21-35 mph or lower becomes "tropical storm," which means the storm is dangerous enough to sustain wind speeds that exceed 35- 50 mph. Indeed, any blowing wind toward any deforested region in Liberia that is in the eye wall of a storm or that part of the storm that typically contains the strongest winds and most violent weather within a tropical system will experience similar destruction like Ganta.
New Weather Patterns, Soil Erosion, and Deforestation in Liberia
Indeed, in the last 80 years since the arrival of Firestone in 1926 and other rubber, cocoa, coffee planting and iron ore mining operations in Liberia, the Liberian virgin rainforests have been seriously degraded to the extent of effecting new waves of weather patterns and severe environmental changes in Liberia. For while I do not pray for a repeat of the recent tropical storm that hit Ganta, it is clear that our environmental irresponsibility over the years as a nation and people may well cause killer winds to change their directions and bring about more tropical storms or even hurricanes in Liberia sometime in the future. And this is not a false alarm if we consider that Liberia has 350 miles of coastline, which mean that the mixture of warm and ocean current can create powerful storms with rushing winds above 45 miles per hour in severity to cause irreparable damage to the country.
In a way, and at the pace at which Liberian waters and forestlands are being exploited and polluted, what we need to watch for in Liberia is that eventual storm surge emanating from a wall of sea water that moves onto land as the eye of the storm approaches land. Such a storm surge, instead of falling at sea, could begin to fall on populated areas of Liberia as a result of massive destructions to our mountains through iron ore mining. These mining operations and other exploits of the mountains could eventually deprive the mountains of the potential to regulate our weather patterns. Consequently, the literal power of the tropical disturbances and storms that exist in the tropical trade winds are often accompanied by clouds and precipitation whose literal power can blow away not so solid dwellings and mud huts within cities like Ganta, Buchanan, Greenville, Harper, Kakata, Gbarnga, Harbel, Yekepa, Zwedru, Voinjama, Monrovia, etc. with their coriolis or counterclockwise effects.
We also need to watch for deforestation activities in Liberia. Deforestation does undermine the environment, and besides creating tropical storms, it can also contribute immensely to temperature variations that have great impacts on our soil and agro-ecosystems. These temperature variations can eventually lead to soil erosion, which is also one of our worst environmental problems in post-conflict Liberia today. And this is true because during deforestation and human displacement, topsoil, the organic layer from which plants get their nutrients to enable growth are seriously violated. In fact, soil is not a pile of dirt as we have come to call it in Liberia. Rather soil is a portent environmental force that we need in order to live. The philosopher Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) once underscored the inevitability of food to humans this way: “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” ( In other words, all humans need food in order to survive, and this is why the soil is very important to humans for growing food. For example, the formation of the soil is an intricate and complex process involving healthy viruses such as algae, bacteria, mites, springtails, nematodes, yeast, protozoa and actinomyetes to form an organic layer soil from a mixture of air, weathered rock, organic matter, and water. It usually takes about 50 billion microbes to produce one tablespoon of soil, so biological soil formation is not an overnight process. In essence, the soil on which we grow our food takes thousands of years to develop from its parent rock and an estimated 100 and 1000 years for 10 mille meter of soil to form. The point here is that almost all the foodstuffs that we need as Liberians come directly from to soil, but the soil has to be fertile in order to produce the food we need since an unbalanced soil will not grow plants that are active and vibrant. Hence, food, oxygen, timber, clothing, paper, medicines, shade, and spirits all depend on good soil, so we need the soil in Liberia to be pollution free at all times for growing food.

Indeed, as we can see, any cultures or nations that preach domination of nature by imposing their human will upon the environment, will be forced to reap the harvest of calamities that affect their citizens' physical, spiritual, mental health, and social well being. For environmental destruction such as soil erosion, air pollution, and contaminated water not only shorten our lives, destroy homes, and poison the atmosphere in our communities, but also make Liberia hotter as we are now seeing in Liberia. In other words, trees are important to lowering the temperature through shade, as their roots stabilize soil, and prevent erosion by trapping soil that would otherwise become silt. But deforestation creates silt which destroys other aquatic wildlife because it interferes with biochemical oxygen demand or the amount of oxygen required in a system for the breakdown of organic material and for organisms to breathe in our tropical waters. Fish kills, for instance, can happen during these "sag" times, especially fish eggs. Silt also contributes to our rivers and streams to run slower, thereby contributing to severe flooding that can wash away any roads and bridges. Hence, trees along our riverbanks hold stream banks in place to protect against flooding and stop silt so that we can have more cold water fish and other aquatic food to eat in our nation.

Dry weather and air pollution are also at a crisis point in Liberia. Dry weather not only leads to dusty soils, but dust might in turn lead to dry weather by changing timing in farming and fishing, which majority of Liberians depends on to live. After all, when all the trees and fertile grounds are destroyed, we are bound to have a serious health epidemic in Liberia. But more important, Liberia lacks not only paved roads, but also lacks effective emission control. As a result, it has become fashionable for anything with tires to run in Liberia at the expense of public health. The transportation shortage after the civil war has therefore made vehicle pollution to be primary contributor to pollution problems in Liberia today, particularly environmental issues such as the greenhouse effect. These kinds of uncontrollable emission problems are so rampant in Liberia that they have become potential cancer hazards. Diesel exhaust alone contains about 41 chemical air toxics that vary from pollutant to pollutant, but are all serious health hazards for cancer, immune system disorders, and reproductive problems. Discrete solid or aerosol particles are pollutants emitted through the vehicle exhaust system or tail pipe, which are not regulated in Liberia. Liberians are therefore at risk of not controlling these pointed and non-pointed sources of pollution which can contribute to asthma and other lung diseases from air pollution. Admittedly, air pollution cannot be overlooked in any re-construction efforts in post-conflict Liberia, as it continues to disable more than 1.1 billion people worldwide and kill between 2.7 million to 3.0 million others annually. At least ninety percent of those who died regularly from air pollution live in developing nations like Liberia.

Biodiversity Loss and Health Challenges
Strictly speaking, our rainforest is both our grocery and pharmacy. We are blessed in the sense that most the world's most curative medicinal products have been discovered from compounds derived from plants or animals found in rainforests like ours. Hence, the forests are the primary custodians of our biodiversity, our “biodiversity hotspots,” but our biodiversity is increasingly being undermined by unregulated human pressure. In the specific case of Liberia, our “Liberia genes” and longevity are determined by the biotic and abiotic factors that formed the ecosystem which produces certain Liberian diets. Generally, we are what we eat and breathe. And on an empirical level, epidemiological studies have found a direct link between diet and adverse health consequences. If you have lived in Liberia, USA, Europe, and other parts of the world, you would have observed differences in cancer rates, including incidences of colon cancer and breast cancer that are linked to variations in human diets. Radio and other medium of communication also remind us daily about the diets choices we make. Thus, there is a link between our survival and our environment. The consequences of environmental change on our activity can cause us early death due to biotope factors or environmental changes because we are connected by food chains or and food webs. This means that nature can disrupt already stressed national health services in Liberia such as infrastructure, equipment, and drugs are lost, and make access to these services much more difficult. Epidemic diseases—malaria, tuberculosis, measles, pneumonia, cholera, typhoid, paratyphoid, schistosomiasis, dengue fever, infection by intestinal worms and bacillary dysentery--are likely to emerge from crowding, bad water, and poor sanitation in post-disasters areas such as Liberia, while malnutrition and stress compromise people’s immune systems.

Key Environmental Factors and Clean up Costs
I really wish in advocating for a safer environment in Liberia that I did not have to sound like Old Testament prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah who harangued the Jews for having forsaken the law of God and their people and thereby brought disaster down upon themselves. But we in Liberia must realize that we are bringing costly natural disasters on ourselves. We regularly read and hear of natural disasters relating to deaths and destructions in other parts of the world, like the way we used to hear about coup d’etats and civil unrests in our countries these things happened in Liberia. But we were ill-prepared to handle the disruptions from military coups and civil wars, so nation lies in tatters today. Again, we should not sit back and wait for future environmental disasters to catch us ill-prepared and unawares because environmental and natural disasters are both very hard and costly to control. In economic terms, the damage from recent floods in Bangladesh was estimated at more than five per cent of that country’s gross domestic product, while it costs the Japan government more than US$100 billion to contain a tropical storm that hit the city of Kobe in 1995 and left 6,433 people dead. And recently in August 2005 Hurricane Katrina claimed 1,836 lives in the American state of Louisiana in particular, but also Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, with between $81 and $125 billion in containment costs. Liberia could be just as affected in the future if we do not take steps to contain the current environmental challenges facing the nation.

Of course, there is a reason for alarm. Liberia does not currently have any early warning systems or advanced modern technology systems that provide weather and environmental forecasters with the ability to accurately determine imminent or oncoming natural disasters. Our nation is therefore cannot alert at risk populations of any impending environmental disasters in Liberia today, and anytime in the future unless we make the necessary investment in environmental control and disaster prevention. Compromising our environment means we will be knocking the root off our soil, air, and water qualities that are the bloodlines and lifelines of any living organism. Hence, the choices we make today concerning the environment will directly impact us tomorrow, both in political and economic terms. I believe that no civilization or democracy has ever striven in an environment of less land, so Liberia needs to wake-up and act now before our environment is completely destroyed.

We ought to realize in Liberia that the environment is not just a useless jungle with wild animals that can be exploited and polluted with impunity. The role of trees and vegetation in air pollution control cannot be over emphasized within the contest of preserving our environment. Trees perform environmental services that directly benefit people living mostly in urban areas. For example, trees can filter up to 80% of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide and a hold soil to prevent erosion. Equally so, during the process of photosynthesis, an acre of forest can not only absorb six tons of carbon dioxide and put out four tons of oxygen, but also can produce the oxygen we breathe for life’s continuance. A single mature tree in Liberian jungle can, therefore, provide enough oxygen for the needs of ten Liberians annually. In addition, any alterations to the environment such as pollution, forest degradation, climate change, and extreme weather can also change prospects for health and development as we are seeing the Ganta. For the most part, conditions of the environment can help determine whether or not people lead longer and healthier lives because conditional changes in the environment can affect reproductive health and lifestyle choices. In addition, they can help determine prospects for social cohesion and economic growth, with further effects on health. Deforestation, on the other hand, is responsible for higher rainfall that triggers mosquito-borne disease outbreaks, increase flooding (spreading parasitic diseases), increase the contamination of water supplies with human or animal wastes and increase exposures to run-off of human-made environmental pollutants.

Similarly, environmental pollution from water-related diseases causes a child to die every 8 seconds. Both unclean water and associated poor sanitation and air pollution kills 15 million people annually, while fifty percent of people in developing countries not only suffer from one or more water-related diseases. At least 80 percent of diseases caused by contaminated water are likely to be found in developing nation like Liberia. And this situation is even exacerbated by the fact that close to fifty percent of people living on the planet earth lack adequate sanitation, while twenty percent of freshwater fish species have been pushed to the edge of extinction from contaminated water. Changes in health conditions also directly affect development prospects and the chances for eradicating poverty in Liberia in particular and Africa in general. Such a development also seeks to perpetuate poverty, deprivation, misery and disease in Liberia by ensuring death tolls that would likely dwarf even the activists’ malaria records, considering the current lifespan is 46-47 years.

Our people rarely have electricity for lights, refrigeration and cooking, water treatment plants, hospitals, schools, offices, shops and factories, while iron ore mining, rubber, coffee, and cocoa plantations make bald our land, leveling mountains and polluting waterways and airways of Liberia. Previously, large mining companies mentioned earlier in this article polluted the St. John River, the Mano River, and their tributaries with iron ore dust and other residues of the iron ore production process, while areas set aside by preceding governments for conservation or scientific inquiry like the Sarpo National Park in Sinoe County and Gola National Forest in Upper Cape Mount County and Lower Lofa County are now in the hands of logging companies. For example, in the 1980s the government decided that more than 284,000 acres in Sinoe County would be used by the University of Liberia for forestry studies and other scientific research. In 2000 those areas were turned over to Oriental Timber Company (OTC).

Indeed, only healthy people can build a democratic society but if our action or inaction endanger our future as we are doing to our environment, how do we expect to sustain the little headways we are making for a stable Liberia? Well, our current environmental action will produce climatic conditions in Liberia that offer a perfect breeding ground for tuberculosis and typhoid malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, which have over the years become hard to control because they have developed a resistance to insecticides. Today, Liberia is not only experiencing an unusually extreme hot dry season temperature, but violent storms. In today’s Liberia, handkerchief is not enough to wipe our sweets. It is now towels because of the changing climate. The raindrops are even getting “bigger” now! Hence, who will come to our help or give us $100 billion dollars to rebuild our nation when these sorts of natural disasters befall the nation because of deforestation? If we do not take precautionary measures aimed at controlling our environment, we will end up destroying ourselves as the Ganta tropical storm has shown.

Looking to the Future
At present, Liberia does not have any warning systems in place to forecast and prepare the country for any future eventual environmental disasters beyond the Ganta tropical storm. But all hope is not lost as long as we are prepared as a nation and people to take the necessary actions in setting up environmental watches and warning systems in strategic locations of the country. And government’s recent constitution of a National Disasters Relief Committee to help victims of the Ganta storm is both politically correct and timely. However, we ought to be proactive in Liberia about our symbiotic environment. We should not permit mining and other companies engaged in air pollution and deforestation to operate without specific guidelines about environmental degradation and control. And this is why it is highly disappointing that the recent iron ore mining agreement between the government of Liberia and Mettel Steel didn’t address how the company is going to “wash” the iron ores extracted from the ground without polluting our environment. This is a crucial role on which the Liberian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have been front and center, but I have learned that head of the EPA was not a party to the Mittel Steel contract negotiations, nor did the recent the Donor Conference on Liberia held in the US in February 2007 include environmental impact assessment issues. The conference rather focused on the exploration and exploitation of timbers, gold, diamonds, iron ores, and other mineral resources of Liberia without consideration for current environmental problems facing the nation. Generally, I think increased business operations in Liberia are very good for economic recovery and social stabilization in Liberia, but we should not rush to every recovery by all means necessary by overlooking potential harms to our environment. We must not let a few people and companies ruin our environment in the name of economic recovery because we all share the soil, water, air, and fruits of Liberia. As there are no guarantees to anything in this world, we should not assume that those who come from the outside to exploit our environment will be fair, just, and balanced in protecting our environment without any initiative on our part. We must act and act now to protect our environment through legislations and related national policies.

Mind you, I am not against the use of our natural resources for national development, but I contemplate a "relationship in which both species benefit" because organisms that interact with mutualisms experience higher success than those that do not. Understandably, our rainforest plays a vital role in our economy by generating up to 60% of the nation's foreign exchange earnings. However, in our development, we should maintain our niche in all dimensions, from environmental protection, good governance, and equal distribution of wealth. We must undertake development activities within the context of when and how we interact with each other and the habitat around us. I believe behaving mutualistically is advantageous to the nation, people, and the next generation of Liberians because we would have the wherewithal to do the things healthy people love to do. I believe that the greatest gift we can give to our children or future generation is to live on our environment and protect it by carefully using it to benefit the nearly four million Liberian and not other nations that have destroyed their environments. As it stands now there is only one way, which must ensure the sustainable use of our national resources whose management or sustainability lies within the frameworks of transparent policy. We have the power to move beyond fear and anger and remember the necessity of having a protected environment in post-conflict Liberia for the sake of our spirituality, self-preservation, and especially for generations of Liberians to come. We need to do this now--all of us, including our environmentalists. We are at another critical fulcrum points in Liberian history where the decisions we make can be exceptional and dangerous to shape a century. Disrespecting the sacredness and sanctum of the rainforests can stir up new viruses and bacteria that may not be too kind to us as a nation and people.

Our roots lie beneath those giant Mountains, rivers, lakes, mangroves, and swamp-beds which geographically define Liberia, our “habitat,” the place we called home. Our lungs are connected to the mountains, rivers, lakes, mangroves, swamp-beds or the outside world through a series of tubes and are only a part of the greater respiratory system we use to breathe. We therefore have every right and responsibility to fight for protection of the ecosystem of habitat, to ensure its rebirth, growth, and ascension to the highest pinnacle. Though these forest canopies support numerous species of mammals, our umbilical chords and the fossils of our parents are also anchored on top of the tropical canopy in Liberia, so we must return to our roots and help rebuild Liberia. On this issue of the environment, we need to come together regardless of our ethnic backgrounds or the organizations to which we belong. I therefore call upon our lawmakers to pass a stronger (full-teeth) and enforceable workers’ heath & safety and environmental protection legislations, and to rally and educate our people to find a common solution to the environment problems in Liberia. I believe each Liberian has a duty to educate our people and leaders by showing how no civilization or nation can live in a democratic nation without a safe environment or topsoil. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken is better than the fat of rams. Remaining alive or in existence by living with our environment is the only choice left to start a vigorous public awareness campaign about protecting our environment in Liberia to prevent another Ganta tropical storm.

Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health at NC A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is author of several books, including, The Historical Resettlement of Liberia and Its Environmental Impact, Christianity, Colonization and State of African Spirituality, and Nyanyan Gohn-Manan: History, Migration & Government of the Bassa (a book about traditional Bassa leadership and cultural norms published in 2003). Somah is also the Executive Director of the Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), a nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He can be reached at:;

© 2007 by The Perspective

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