LIBERIA: WaterAid Releases environmental, social and health impact scoping report

By: WASH R&E “MEDIA” Network – WaterAid Liberia, through its Transboundary Programme for Liberia & Sierra Leone, commissioned an Environmental, Social and Health Impact Scoping Study to understand the potential impacts of ongoing activities on sustainable access to WASH in key cross-border communities in Liberia.  

Artisanal mining in Massakapa-2, Tewor District-Grand Cape Mount County

Artisanal mining in Massakapa-2, Tewor District-Grand Cape Mount County

The Environmental, Social and Health Impact Scoping Report focuses on Sustainability Appraisal for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Services in 45 communities in selected Districts of Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu Counties, Western Liberia.

The Districts include Tewor, Gola Konneh, Porkpka and Garwula in Grand Cape Mount County, and, Gbarma, Belleh and Kongba in Gbarpolu County.

The report highlights Water & Extractive/Non-Renewable Activities, Current and Future State of Farming & Agriculture and Artisanal and Mechanized Mining Activities.

Other areas of focus include Human Settlements and Energy Needs, Threatened Wildlife Habitat and Ecosystem, Expanded Road Transport and Access, and Impact from Climate Change, among others.

Drinking water source - Kongba District - Tima Village

Drinking water source – Kongba District – Tima Village

According to the Report, the provision of safe and improved drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services can be greatly undermined if appropriate actions are not taken to guard against the environmental and social health impacts of expanding human settlements, stressing the need for economic and livelihood activities and the natural turn towards extractive sectors and non-renewable resources.

The Report further says small and large water bodies are normally polluted as a direct or indirect result of these human-induced activities, such as mining, pit-sawing, charcoal production and unsustainable farming practices.

Increased human settlement and quest for income, according to the Report, is driving increasing numbers of residents into many areas in a search to carve out an existence, often pitting them at odds with their surrounding environment, thus jeopardizing their access to sustainable WASH services.

Line Positive Village in Belleh District, Gbarpolu County

Line Positive Village in Belleh District, Gbarpolu County

The Environmental, Social and Health Impact Scoping Report also pointed out that shifting cultivation and livestock farming practices are a significant contributing factor to destroying the character of the study landscape areas.

for mining activities, they are quickly growing within the study area, both on the artisanal and large, mechanized scale.

The Report says intrusive ground disturbance works associated with these mining operations potentially impact water resources in communities across the study area, limiting the availability and possibly quality of the ground water.

Both artisanal and mechanized operations require significant amounts of water for washing and processing gravel, often with the use of chemicals such as mercury and cyanide.

The Environmental, Social and Health Impact Scoping Report says the current uncontrolled spread of informal communities depending largely on forest resources, including water, continues to impact the landscape.

Old pit latrines in Tindowah Village, Gbarma District

Old pit latrines in Tindowah Village, Gbarma District

These settlements are often unplanned, presenting a complex demand for basic energy and income generating economic activities.

Charcoal is the leading source of energy in these remote, rural areas also serving as a significant cash-earner for many households.

Current charcoal production practices rely on cutting increasingly depleted forests (flora), leading to increasing evaporation and rising water temperatures.

According to the Report, the increased competition for water resources for domestic purposes may also lead to decreased quality of existing surface and ground waters as open defecation and waste disposal remain prevalent across the study area.

In areas where limited WASH infrastructure exists, ongoing challenges such as dysfunctional wells and improperly decommissioned latrines, which further compound environmental health risks.

Current wildlife habitats and heritage features are vastly declining, putting protected forest areas at risk. Large and medium mammals are threatened or becoming extinct due to loss of habitat, creating increased competition for existing water resources for both wildlife and human.

Also, the Report noted that increasing travel on unsealed roads and access tracks may lead to erosion and an increase of sedimentation into surrounding water bodies, as the roads are constructed of laterite.

Pit-sawing in Karmoh Village, Belleh District

Pit-sawing in Karmoh Village, Belleh District

Water quality impacts attributed to erosion, sedimentation, and polluted runoff associated with road construction, operation, and maintenance may be limited to the adjacent streams, but in the watershed downstream, the impact from the road may contribute to other forms of water pollution.

The Environmental, Social and Health Impact Scoping Report further says climate change impacts both the biodiversity and the ecosystem (dual nature).

Finite water resources exist within the ecosystem, where flora and fauna species thrive by relying directly on access to these natural water sources, noting that when water resources are negatively impacted by increasing temperatures, low availability due to high/faster rate of evaporation, pollution or contamination, access to safe and sustainable water is compromised within a competing ecosystem.

The Environmental, Social and Health Impact Scoping Report among other things identified key issues as many of the livelihood activities in assessed areas rely on non-renewable natural resources and may potentially cause long-term damage to the environmental sustainability of the area and a stable water cycle for continued clean and safe water.

Water-borne and poor hygiene related illnesses such as typhoid, diarrhoea and skin rashes were commonly reported by respondents as a cause to seek medical attention at a health facility, where primary care-givers often ranged from traditional midwives to physician’s assistants.

This economic activity poses a particular threat to these rural, transboundary communities, as their basic means of daily survival today may be undermining their access to clean and safe water and improved living standards in years to come.

Results indicate that of the 45 total communities assessed, 22 of them had some level of mining activity ongoing, while 20 communities were involved in charcoal making; 16 engaged in pit-sawing; 6 involved in oil-palm production activities; 4 reported farming with fertilizers and 3 had full scale logging activity.

Most communities had several of the activities ongoing, however mining, charcoal production and pit-sawing were reported as the most prevalent cash-generating activities.

Each of the assessed locations was ranked into one of three categories based on potential of environmental impact. The categories are:

High Ecological Value (HEV) – Areas that contain either flora, fauna, or water locations of high ecological values;

Medium Ecological Value (MEV) – Areas that contain either flora, fauna, or water locations of important ecological values, but significant amounts of degradation have occurred; and

Low Ecological Value (LEV) – Areas that may have contained some level of ecological value, but significant amounts of degradation have occurred and the areas are beyond ecological restoration.

Findings of the Environmental, Social and Health Impact Scoping Report revealed that just fewer than 60% of assessed locations in Grand Cape Mount were found in MEV to HEV areas.

In Gbarpolu, however, approximately 80% of locations were found to be in MEV and HEV areas where activities were mostly artisanal mining.

This type of mining activity is characterized by less mechanization, numerous hand-dug pits, and gravel washing on riverbanks and poorly regulated by authorities.

Large tracts of land were observed to be cleared relating to charcoal production and pit-sawing with stockpiles often seen on roadsides and riverbanks for sale.

The Environmental, Social and Health Impact Scoping Report concluded that urgent attention is required to secure existing water resources to support expanding rural WASH service demands, particularly in transboundary communities relying on extractive and non-renewable resources for livelihoods.

Ongoing practices by local residents seeking to earn a living are potentially undermining their access to sustainable water and WASH services.

More sustainable approaches to income generation and rural energy production are required to ensure communities can continue to access safe water and sanitation services in the long term.

Below is summary of Districts the Report focused on:

TEWOR – Identified 2 mechanized mining operations. Primary income generation activities were charcoal making and vegetables growing – secondary activities were employment with mechanized gold mining operations. Mining is said to be dissuading young people from attending schools as this is seen as the largest income generating opportunity within the District. Other activities were oil-palm production using fertilizers.

GOLA KONNEH – Identified 6 mechanized and 1 artisanal mining operation – all in high ecological value areas except in Jarwejah village, a LEV area. Primary income generation activities were mechanized diamond/gold mining, oil-palm production, pit-sawing and charcoal making. Farming in Jarwejah includes extensive use of fertilizers in the oil-palm farming process. The uncontrolled use of these fertilizers often leads to water contamination, especially with the increase of the water nitrates, potassium and phosphorous contents.

PORKPA – Several artisanal mining operations were identified, mostly operated by residents themselves. Small scale mining was reported on the rise in the towns of Fornor, Butter Hill, and Kawelahun. Farming (oil-palm production) and charcoal making were also predominant economic activities across the district.

GARWULA – Key income activities were subsistence farming, charcoal production, fishing in Lake Piso and employment with an oil palm concession in the District. There were no mining activities reported. Land disputes related to non-compensation for damaged crops were reported to spark intermittent community unrest. Only 5% of the area was recorded as being of high ecological value (HEV) and up to 70% as least ecological value, likely due to the historical and ongoing commercial agriculture.

GBARMA – Identified 2 artisanal gold and diamond mines operated by local residents. Farm- based activities such as extensive pit-sawing and charcoal production were the primary income generating activities. Mining and farming activities are within medium – low ecological value areas.

BELLEH – Identified 4 artisanal gold and diamond mining operations, all within the high ecological value areas of the Kpo Mountain Ranges. Farm-based activities such as pit-sawing, charcoal production and hunting were identified as the key livelihood activities.

KONGBA – Identified 3 artisanal (mostly diamond) and 1 mechanized mining operation, all within the high ecological value areas of the proposed protected nature reserves in the nearby Foya forest. Artisanal operations appeared largely unregulated and are already potentially impacting the quality of the nearby water resources. Farm-based activities such as pit-sawing and charcoal production as well as logging and hunting were identified as the key livelihood activities. Nearly 75% of the District is covered by the Proposed Protected area of the Foya Forest, which is an area of high ecological value. Poor land management and economic activities have resulted in some level of degradation of the landscape.