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Liberia - Præsidentsvalget to hovedtemaer er vand og elektricitet

LIBERIA: Power and water two of top priorities post-elections

IRINnews.org, 19. oktober 2005

De største problemer i Liberia efter 14 års krigstilstand er de mangelfulde forsyninger af elektricitet og rent drikkevand. Alle præsidentkandidater har lovet at give en løsning af disse problemer førsteprioritet, men det kan ikke gøres uden hjælp udefra ligesom det også vil kræve administrative reformer.

Many residents depend on deliveries by wheelbarrow for their water - ©  Claire Soares/IRIN
MONROVIA, 19 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - The first time Geoffrey Rudd tried to get the water running again in war-battered Liberia, a government militia known as Wild Geese opened fire on him.

The first time he tried to turn the lights back on, axe-wielding rebel soldiers charged at him, angry at being interrupted siphoning off oil from the power plant's multi-million-dollar generators.

But the European diplomat does not give up easily.

He is hopeful that ordinary Liberians in the capital, Monrovia, will have piped water in a year's time and mains electricity six months after that.

"The European Commission has made available 10.5 million euros (US $12.6 million) to get basic water and electricity up and running for the private companies to then come in," said Rudd, the charge d'affaires in Monrovia.

Privatisation is the latest strategy to restore basic utilities to a city where most of the one million inhabitants depend on polluted wells or purified water delivered by tanker trucks or, more commonly, wheelbarrows.

Slashed power cables dangle down into Monrovia's pot-holed streets. The wealthier residents use small petrol generators, affectionately dubbed Tigers, to power a television or a fridge, but most residents get by with candles and paraffin lamps.

Even officials counting votes after last week's elections, the first since the end of Liberia's civil war, had to resort to battery-powered lanterns to tot up the ballot papers.

The EC is launching tenders for the electricity and water sectors on behalf of the government, and Rudd said interest had already been voiced from national, regional and international players.

Liberia's water and electricity boards will then be turned into regulatory authorities, charged with supervising the system, rather than running it.

"We hope that by introducing a commercial element into the equation we will get a more efficient system," Rudd told IRIN in an interview at his office in the diplomatic enclave, where the loud humming of generators provides a constant soundtrack.

This time lucky?

Donors have already tried giving money directly to the government to get the utilities up and running but the funds vanished. Technical assistance also failed because the government did not have the resources to run the programmes.

Slashed power cables hang lifelessly from wonky pylons in Monrovia - ©  IRIN
The transitional government's 2005/2006 budget, for example, amounts to just $80 million. A fifth of that was allocated to the social and community sector, of which a scant two percent was earmarked for public works.

And then there was the old bugbear, corruption.

"We have been up against the management of the water and electricity sector because the majority of people working there have not been committed to providing a service to the population," Rudd said.

"They have seen it more as a source of income as they turn up to work every day in their four-wheel-drive cars."

However, the recently approved Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP), which puts international experts in key revenue-generating institutions, has gone a long way towards keeping donors committed.

And last week's violence-free election also helped the image of this West African nation, struggling to rebuild after 14 years of civil war.

Both soccer millionaire George Weah and veteran economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf -- the two candidates who will battle it out for the presidency in a second round next month -- have pledged to make turning on the lights and water one of their top priorities.

Sirleaf has promised power in the capital in six months, and a hand pump or well in every village by 2008. Weah has shied away from fixing any dates.

Experts say repairing Monrovia's water system will be easier than restoring power because the main water pipe is there and just needs some light repair work, replacing broken or missing valves.

However, the secondary distribution system to deliver the water to individual homes needs a complete overhaul, and another problem is keeping the supply clean.

"Some people have actually made holes in the main pipe to make illegal connections," Rudd explained. "They suck in dirt and contaminate the supply from the outside and that puts the rest of the system at risk from disease."

Ravaged by war and looting

The electricity infrastructure has been harder hit. The power station on Bushrod Island is out of commission and many power lines were either destroyed during the war or stolen by the population.

"People would melt the wires down for copper knick-knacks," Rudd said.

Longer-term plans to provide electricity from the hydro-electric dam on the Saint Paul river, a project which is expected to cost $300 million, will probably have to be put on ice until Liberia's new leadership proves its economic credentials.

"Until Liberia meets the Highly-Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) benchmarks, there's no chance it will get significant loans to allow it to invest in infrastructure," Rudd said.

Monrovia's "water boys" will likely go out of business once taps are running - ©  IRIN
The restoration of power and water would spell big changes for Monrovians and their way of life.

Cholera cases would likely drop with fewer people relying on contaminated water sources. Electricity would allow schoolchildren to do their homework without straining their eyes and might even help cut the crime rate.

"The lack of electricity is compounding the crime problem. It's so dark it makes it easier for the hoodlums," one senior UN police officer said on a recent night patrol of the capital.

However, some people like Peter Mensah, have mixed feelings about water gushing out of the taps and lights coming on at the flick of a switch.

The 30-year-old is one of Monrovia's so-called "water boys". Every day he fills jerry cans with water and lugs them up and down the city's hills.

On a good day he makes less than US $2, but in a country where the unemployment rate is 85 percent, it's something.

"They can bring the water back," he told IRIN. "But they also need to find me a job".

© IRIN - This article appeared originally on IRIN News.org and is published by engelund.dk according a general agreement. To view the original article, please click here.
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is a project of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]


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Opdateret d. 19.10.2005