Liberia Against “New COVID-19 Variant”: The “Economic Plight” of “Vulnerable Groups” Under Gov’t’s “Stringent Measures”
Note: All photos are from the Author’s “Disability File” from his previous reportage (from 2013)
This article ends with recommendations—solution methods to reduce the suffering rate of these prime disadvantaged citizens.
Since March, 2020, Liberia has been battling with a “strange” respiratory sickness named Coronavirus—medically named “COVID-19”—whose origin is China, according to reports from Western Media. The “thing” entered Liberia through a top government official— Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—who had returned home from a Climate Change-related International Conference held in a Western Country, according to the Liberian Government through the Country’s Chief Medical Office.
On April 8, President George Manneh Weah declared a State of Emergency during his Address to the Nation on the health of the Country under COVID-19. The President’s declaration crippled the Nation’s economic life as the Government destroyed traders’ market tables (meant to decongest huge concentration of traders in open-market places) and closed all entry points at inter-Country routes for transportation of agricultural products, as well as Liberia’s sides of all border points—at a time Liberia was getting much of staple foods from neighbor Countries.
Liberia’s “vulnerable community”—of persons living with disabilities, elderly persons, single mothers (with two or more children), children, etc.—was the most sufferers of the Government’s actions.
When national hunger-related lamentations—especially from members of the “vulnerable group” began filtering into the President George Manneh Weah’s private home and his office, the Head of State responded with instructing the Ministry of Commerce & Industry (MOCI) to design a strategy that would get “free foods” into the homes of the most “vulnerable people”. This strategy was named “COVID-19 Stimulus Package”, of the Government, and the contents of the ‘package’ were rice, beans and vegetable oil. Distribution started May 25.
For transparency in distribution, the Government hired the World Food Programme (WFP), of the United Nations, to distribute dry foods—rice, vegetable oil and beans—across Liberia’s 15 Counties.
But complaints of ‘marginalization’ from some groups of the Country’s disability community soon rose—relayed by the media.
On Thursday, September 17, 2020, a group of visually impaired persons (children and adults)—of the “Hope For God Association of the Blind”—conglomerated at the gate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (hosting President George Manneh Weah’s official Office), brandishing placards with various information relating to the COVID-19 Stimulus Package. Some of the wordings on placards said: “WFP Where Is Our Food?” and “WFP, Please Give Our Food”
Up to the time (August, 2021) this article was being prepared, the foods had not reached most “vulnerable” groups.
Even the President’s County—Grand Kru—hasn’t received a pinch of any of the food items released in May, 2020—fourteen (14) months after the distribution started. That means the “vulnerable groups” in this County—Liberia’s current impoverished political region, due most to deplorable conditions of roads that connect Grand Kru to all “linking Counties”—Maryland, Grand Gedeh, and Sinoe. Each of the inter-connectivity roads in the President’s County is a “death trap”, due to mudslide, dismantling wooden bridges (constructed over fifty years ago), and narrowness of some of the roads (inches away from mouths of creeks or water body running dozens of feet deep)
Before arrival of COVID-19 into Liberia, or when the George Weah’s Government relaxed the enforcement, disabled people—living hundreds of miles from their “hustle base”—could afford the general transportation fare (Liberian dollar: 100, 50, 20, or 10) demanded by operators of commercial vehicles (buses, taxis, or tricycles or “Kehkeh”) Many of them got the transportation fare from their neighbors on “credit”, to be paid (with interest) upon return from the “hustle”
Many petty-business single mothers—some take one or two of their children on the “roving trading” mission—are in this painful “sustainability boat” with the disabled people on “street begging”.
But with the Government’s reintroduction of the “stringent” anti-COVID-19 pandemic (new variant), has returned to most of the disabled people to the “painful living condition” that had been before the new Government’s “order”. The worst victims are persons who do not have anything to sell, a “Government official” to assist, or a religious organization to help. Many can no longer leave their residences now under the conquest of hunger, as well as sickness.
The absence of a well-functioning welfare program, from the Government’s end, for the Country’s disabled community, has made disabled people’s “economic plight” more complicated. A Government’s Care Program—that ensures regular supply of foods, as well as medications—would have been serving as “ameliorative mechanism” for these “vulnerable groups”. National Political leaderships in Liberia’s sister-Countries have this suffering-reduction structure in place.
On mobility, the major cause of suffering of disabled people is the high transportation fare for commercial vehicles. And operators of commercial vehicles are justifying the high cost.
“I can’t take the old price, seventy five dollars, until the gas sellers bring down the price per a liter to three hundred, from the six hundred they are currently selling it. Besides, the Government has stopped kehkeh riders from taking three passengers at the back seat on which we used to take this small amount of money. When the Government truly cares about the poor citizens to ride bus, taxi or kehkeh, they should give order for gas price to go down to three hundred dollars per gallon.”
The above comments are of a male operator of a tricycle ploughing the Matadi/Airfield-Central Monrovia route in August, 2021. He was arguing with a passenger in his vehicle, who lambasted at him of “cheating passengers on the COVID-19 pandemic issues in the Country.” I was one of the passengers on the tricycle.
In Liberia, there are two gas sale points—at old old-time Filling Stations (been around before the Country erupted into civil war) and the sold-in-bottle points (appeared during post-war time). The latter receive their supply from operators of gas tankers, after supplying to the old-time points. The in-bottle has advantages over the old-time point’s: smaller quantities (quarter liter three-quarter liter) and smaller amounts (fifty Liberian dollars to seventy five dollars) The old-time’s point sells only from one gallon, which is now being sold at six hundred and twenty Liberian dollars (equivalent of about four U.S. Dollars) But the in-bottle type of sale has a major disadvantage: Some of the sellers mix the gas with water for profiteering.
Operators of the other commercial vehicles (buses and cars) are “justifying” their “high transport fares”—on taking three passengers (at the back), which is a mandate from the Government to prevent spread of COVID-19; and “high gas price”
The George Manneh Weah-led Government should provide special buses (preferably, some of the National Transit Authority buses offered by the Indian Government) that will convey disabled people, especially the visually impaired (blind), to points they get their daily bread. Pick up points should be announced over radio stations or published in newspapers.
The Government should financially support operators of commercial vehicles to give “free ride” to members of the Country’s “vulnerable group”, and publicize the “free ride” in the various media.
This is how the ticketing project can be done: Prepare “mobility tickets” for the vulnerable people through a collaborative structure of the Information MGCSP’s “Social Protection” arm, a body of road-side money changers, and the Liberia National Police (to serve as “monitoring arm” of the collaboration). Any “vulnerable group” member with this ticket will show it to any commercial vehicle’s operator stopped. After conveying the “vulnerable group” member, the vehicle operator will take the ticket to a member of the body of road-side money changers to give the amount written on the ticket. The money changer will take the ticket to the MGCSP for reimbursement with a “little interest” (to cover the transport fare spent by the money changer to get to the MGCSP) This is an alternatively method to the first recommendation.
The Government should create “feeding centers” for members of the “vulnerable groups”, especially visually impaired (blind) persons. This is similar to the COVID-19’s “Stimulus Package”. The needy persons should be created into “zones”, according to communities in which they reside. This is similar to “feeding methods” used by the United States Government, or authorities of States of America, for their citizens who are “financially handicapped” or “homeless”
The “insensitivity” or “empathy” of the Liberian Government toward its “economically disadvantaged citizens” will be shown in its “action”