LIBERIA: WASH Reporters & Editors Network Established

….Government Welcomes Initiative WaterAid, Others Commanded – By Augustine Myers Liberian Journalists have established a new Media Group comprising reporters and editors interested in  reporting on  issues of water, sanitation and hygiene known as WASH issues.

Liberian Media Reporters and Editors at the Program to form the Network

Liberian Media Reporters and Editors at the Program to form the Network

The Group is called, “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Reporters & Editors Network of Liberia.

This is based on a need to ensure a Media Network for informed actions on water, hygiene and sanitation in Africa’s oldest Independent Republic, “Liberia”. 

The move by Liberian Media Practitioners is also intended to enhance a team work between journalists and Civil Society Organizations in Liberia, and the West African Sub-region to influence policies and enable access of all to safe water, hygiene and sanitation.

This initiative followed similar decision reached in Bamako, Mali by journalists of the Region to establish a WASH Media Network. The Regional Media Practitioners met at the close of last year, 2010 to ensure increased media coverage and reportage on WASH issues. The Forum was initiated and facilitated by WaterAid, Water Supply & Collaborative Council and Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Liberia Wash networkReading the Foundation Document at a well attended general meeting to mark the official establishment of the Group, the Chairman of the new WASH Reporters and Editors Network of Liberia, Mr. Augustine N. Myers said their decision to network as journalists is based on their own social and national responsibility as part of a professional call of duty to join efforts with the Liberian Government, local and International partners aimed at achieving the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to Mr. Myers, this is basically based on the fact that the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (IPRSP) which later began Government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) considered as Liberia’s road map towards achieving the MDGs, estimates that only 25 percent of Liberians have access to safe drinking water, just 14 percent have access to human waste collection and disposal facilities and 5% practice safe hygiene.

Liberia Wash networkAccording to the documents, he said Coverage varies from County to County for water from 7% to 66%, and for sanitation from 9% to 25%. In rural areas, access is even lower, particularly in the southeast of the Country where four of six Counties have the lowest levels of access to safe drinking water.

Liberia Wash networkHe disclosed that the state of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services in Liberia remains dire, amid slow progress in increasing service delivery and improving policy environment, because according to him, only a minority of Liberians, whether in rural or urban areas, have access to save water and sanitation facilities: three out of four people have no access to safe water, six out of seven are without access to safe sanitation facilities such as toilets, and 19 out of 20 practice unsafe hygiene behavior such as not washing hands with soap after using the toilet or not storing their water in clean environments.

Liberia Wash networkThe Liberian media practitioner said since the election and subsequent induction of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration in January 2006, efforts aimed at addressing these alarming data have been made by the government with support from the international community.

Through this effort he pointed out, the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) which runs from June 2008-June 2011 has apportioned 143.5m in the 4th pillar for water, sanitation and hygiene.

Mr. Myers said as a means of complimenting efforts of government and development partners, civil society organized itself into networks to advocate for shift in policy, increased financing, transparency, participation and accountability.

Speaking further during the meeting which witnessed the signing of the Foundation Document by media reporters and editors representing their respective Institutions, Mr. Myers said though in Liberia the media is recognized as a crucial partner in improving the conditions of the people by ensuring access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and safe hygiene, media practitioners especially reporters and editors have developed little or no interest in WASH stories.

This according to him, this is largely because reporters and editors did not adequately understand WASH issues, and perceived stories of the sector as less interesting to the listening, viewing or reading audience.

He said in an effort to breach the media gap, the WASH Reporters & Editors Network of Liberia is hereby established and coordinated by the Liberia Media Empowerment & Advocacy Foundation (LIMEAF INC.) as a legitimate Group to give WASH issues special media attention to bring about the much anticipated change.

He said, WASH R&E Network-Liberia further seeks to train and empower media reporters and editors and deploy/encourage them in the field to do investigative reporting on the WASH Sector. The Network according to him, will train/prepare and accredit media reporters to various WASH activities organized by stakeholders around the Country as well as work with media editors to give top priority/priorities to WASH issues, etc.

Speaking further, he noted that they as professional media practitioners comprising of reporters and editors within the media landscape, being fully cognizant of the urgent need to attract robust media attention on issues promoting water, sanitation and hygiene as part of our own efforts to inform, educate and entertain the public; and for the aggressive need to ensure active media participation and involvement in the WASH Sector through increased media coverage and reportage; here by organize themselves into a Group to champion exclusive media attention into issues and activities of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector.

According to him, this is a loose Network of journalists with sub chapters in the Counties of Liberia, and that the Liberia Media Empowerment & Advocacy Foundation (LIMEAF INC.) as host of the Network shall provide legal backing and manage the affairs of the Network.

Mr. Myers said the WASH R&E Network-Liberia is a voluntary, non-for-profit association of journalists (editors and reporters) with the main focus to increase media reportage on water, sanitation and hygiene issues as a means of ensuring that the people of Liberia have access to WASH.

The Liberian Journalists have extolled efforts of WaterAid, WSSCC and Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for their support in ensuring the establishment of the WASH Reporters & Editors Network of Liberia.

The specific objectives of the WASH R&E Network-Liberia include but not limited to:

Increasing the understanding of journalists on water, sanitation and hygiene issues;

Improving the technical capacity of Journalists to effectively report and analyze water, sanitation and hygiene issues;

Providing a platform for members to play their watchdog role in holding government and relevant stakeholders accountable to the people, particularly in the implementation of water, sanitation and hygiene programmes; and

Ensuring the continuous education of member journalists by facilitating their participation in relevant local and international training, meetings, conferences and workshops as well as field visits.

The entity shall affiliate with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and also collaborate with other local and international bodies with similar aims for the promotion of its objectives.

The Foundation Document clearly states that WASH R&E Network-Liberia shall be a membership-based Organization, and it shall have three separate membership status.

1. Full Membership shall consist of active Journalists who report on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Sector.

2. Associate Membership shall consist of other media practitioners who are not actively reporting on WASH issues, including young journalists who would like to be grown up to report on the WASH Sector.

3. Affiliate Membership shall consist of friends and partners of the Media, including foreign media practitioners.

Key Activities:

The Network, through LIMEAF INC. shall assign editors at various media institutions; collect monthly water, sanitation and hygiene stories, and shall honor three separate news papers, radio and television stations that recorded the highest stories on water, sanitation and hygiene based on WASH Sector’s coverage and reportage.

The honoring program shall issue certificates to institutions, editors and reporters as a means of motivation. Media institutions, editors and reporters shall be required to enter into the competition through oral or written request. Print and electronic media WASH stories published and aired shall be acquired.

The WASH Reporters & Editors Network of Liberia shall also work with Civil Society Organizations, Government’s Ministries & Agencies and INGOs/NGOs’ Work Plans to develop its deployment for media coverage; workout plans and deploy reporters, based on the plan developed. Before been sent into the field, reporters shall be given transportation allowance, and for those to be sent outside Monrovia to sleep shall receive in addition to transportation allowance for feeding and lodging.

The WASH Reporters & Editors Network of Liberia shall first do a desk review of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) document, the PRS WASH deliverables after which it shall deploy trained media practitioners to the various Ministries to gather total delivered projects/activities on the WASH Sectors and their locations. Following this, reporters shall be sent to the various locations to assess status, and shall document and report through the print and electronic media.

Meanwhile, the Liberian Government has praised efforts of Liberian Journalists, and welcomed the formation of the Network, describing it as timely and very significant to the growth and development of post-conflict Liberia.

The Liberian Government, through the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) says this demonstrates that Media Practitioners in Liberia are true partners in progress.

MICAT congratulated WASH R&E Network-Liberia for the positive Initiative, and pledged Government’s fullest support.

The Liberia Civil Society Organizations WASH Working Group has equally welcomed the formation of the Network, and described it as a great initiative to buttress advocacy activities of the Liberia CSOs WASH Working Group.

The Group said partners would be fostered between it and the Network to give more attention to WASH issues.

The Chairman of the CSOs WASH Working Group, Prince D. Kreplah said Journalists and partners, and that the Group will closely work with the new Media WASH Network in Liberia.

For its part, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) says the establishment of the WASH R&E Network-Liberia is part of the Union’s calls for specialized development reporting.

PUL is meanwhile challenging the Liberia Media Empowerment & Advocacy Foundation as host of the Network to as well focus its activities in the rural parts of the Country in increasing coverage and reportage on WASH issues.