The future of our universe falls into the hands of our youth, and unless we accept this, we will never truly prepare ourselves for the fight to improve our environment. This is the ideology that has created a major change in the way things are improving throughout Liberia, thanks to one man who has made it his mission to create sustainability with the youth. The Honorable Emmanuel Mulbah Johnson, Assistant Minister for Youth Development and Minister of Youth and Sports Republic of Liberia, has found a way to both save the climate and teach youth how to improve their environment. It’s all a matter of innovative ideas combined with a touch of motivation and inspiration.
To ensure the youth of Liberia take responsibility for the improvement of their community, Assistant Minister Johnson created a project called the Beaches and Waterways Project that would improve the sanitation and hygienic conditions of beaches and waterways systems in Montserrado County. “The wonderful thing about this project is that it not only improves the environment of the beaches and waterway systems but it also helps to create jobs in underserved communities along the beaches in the county,” said Johnson. “The water bodies (ocean and waterways) sustain us with the basic elements of life. They produce half of the oxygen in the air we breathe, and it is an essential part of the water cycle, helping to provide the water we drink,” he continued. Johnson makes no mistake in his determination to ensure that the young people of Liberia understand that the water cycle serves recreational purposes that create jobs for thousands of people. In addition, the Assistant Minister for Youth Development encourages the youth to appreciate the value of the water cycles throughout the county so that they respect the habitat and nesting grounds that the water ways create for important aquatic wildlife like sea turtles and sea birds, fishes, and other aquatic life.
If the ocean had the ability to sustain itself without contamination, the project would serve as a highly successful system that not only cleaned the water but also assisted in its ability to sustain itself. However, due to the growing world population and the corresponding human activities, the ocean, water bodies, and water ways continue to experience increased contamination. According to Assistant Minister Johnson, “key contributors of these contaminants include storm water runoff, untreated or partially treated discharges from sewage treatment systems, discharges from sanitary sewers and septic systems, and improper disposal of manufactured or processed solid waste or unprocessed material waste on beaches and waterways.” Like many cities around the world, Monrovia has witnessed and continues to witness population growth. Today, Monrovia originally built for about 250,000 people, holds approximately 1.5 million of the country’s 3.5 million inhabitants—and according to Johnson, most of the homes are located in economically challenged communities
“A lot of the homes in the more impoverished communities lack latrine facilities and proper waste disposal system,” said Johnson. “As such, our beaches and water ways are serving as options for human waste,” he continued. Sewage in ocean waters has resulted in plague outbreak like diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, to name only a few. According to Johnson, approximately 26 communities in Montserrado have been identified to be the most vulnerable. “These communities are mostly located along beaches and waterways. The usage of beaches and waterways as a mean of waste deposal results in the blocking of waterways, damaging marine ecosystems and creating hazard for aquatic life and causing multiple of health problems for community dwellers,” said Johnson of the problems his youth program is fighting hard to combat. According to Johnson, the situation not only negatively affects the environment but it also compromises the health of humans, aquatic life and the livelihoods that depend on a healthy ocean and water bodies; it impedes recreational and tourism opportunities, and the significant necessary income they add to their local economies.
“Inhabitants that live on a beach and/or along waterways, have a profound stake in ensuring that the coastline and water ways are kept clean. To achieve this, there must be a collective commitment from all stakeholders. The process should include the recruitment of young people and expressed willingness from residents to embark on a massive cleaning of beaches and water ways through the Ministry of Youth and Sports,” said Johnson. The Honorable Assistant Minister stated that initially, 80% of the beneficiaries of the Maritime Authority funding, which served to improve water way systems along the coast, were youth between the ages of 18 to 35. The government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDM), turned over the management of the project to the Ministry of Youth and Sports which has the statutory responsibility to develop and implement youth empowerment and employment programs.
It is through this youth ministry that Liberia’s youth are not only employed, but they are also taught the importance of valuing their land. “We believe that the youth hold the key to the future,” Johnson said. “They have the power to make the future look brighter and they have the ability to make significant changes both now and in the future. It is our youth who will serve as the greatest impact on our fight to improve our communities, generate income, and save our environment at the same time. The youth have a stake in the outcome of this fight, and it will be them who will make the greatest impact.”