Story

Rhetoric and Reality on Water

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West Point, a slum in Monrovia, Liberia. During the war, many fled here to escape the fighting in the countryside only to face another battle with water and sanitation. Image by Peter Sawyer. Liberia, 2011.

“What brought me to West Point is food. I was so hungry," says Kulah Borbor, recalling why and how she left her hometown in Grand Cape Mount County in western Liberia. Borbor fled heavy fighting in the interior during Liberia’s civil war. With her husband and four young children in tow, she walked for two days before finally settling here in West Point on the edge of the ocean, one of Monrovia’s largest slums.

There were thousands of Liberians like Borbor who squeezed into shantytowns like this. The overcrowding stretched services, turning slums into urban juggles. Clean water and sanitation facilities became all but non-existent. Instead came a toxic combination of dirty water, garbage and sewage. Borbor's husband became sick with cholera and died.

The statistics are shocking. Eighteen percent of all deaths in Liberia are related to illnesses caused by poor water and sanitation – illnesses like diarrhea, malaria and cholera – according to a 2008 World Health Organization report. Only 25 percent of Liberians have access to safe drinking water and less than one in five Liberians has access to improved sanitation facilities.

For Boley's full report on conditions in West Point, please click here.