|© UNICEF video|
|Counsellor Issa Konfourou of Mali’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, representing UNICEF, speaks to children at the Tenebu Government School in Liberia’s Lofa County.|
By Sabine Dolan
MONROVIA, Liberia, 7 March 2007 – After more than 14 years of civil conflict, Liberia is moving forward on the road to recovery.
To witness the country’s progress firsthand, a 19-member delegation representing the governing bodies of several UN agencies has just completed a weeklong mission to the West African nation.
During their joint visit, the delegates – representing the Executive Boards of UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the UN Development Program and the UN Population Fund – met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to discuss crucial priorities such as unemployment, health and education.
“Education is the basis for knowledge,” said Ms. Sirleaf. “It’s the basis for having the capability to be able to, first of all, manage your own affairs in your home and community, and also to be a part of the national team that’s trying to rebuild the country.”
The UN delegation also met with other government officials, as well as representatives of civil society and the private sector.
Reconstruction and development
In the wake of the civil war that ended three years ago, Liberia confronts formidable reconstruction and development challenges. Not least among these is the re-establishment of civil society at both the national and local levels.
Since the democratic election of Ms. Sirleaf, the first elected woman president of an African nation, Liberia has made considerable progress – including the return of hundreds of thousands of people who had been displaced by violence.
|© UNICEF video|
|Children at a transit centre for returning refugees and displaced people in Lofa County, Liberia.|
However, the country still faces colossal challenges, with more than 76 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.
“The humanitarian needs are enormous,” said Senior Adviser Dan Silvey of the UK Department of International Development. “When 85 per cent of the population is unemployed, regenerating economic activities is very important. And what we had the opportunity to see, both in the field and here in Monrovia, was the work of the UN in helping communities and local government plan economic strategies for redevelopment.”
‘Determined to rise again’
The UN delegation members had an opportunity to learn about these strategies. On their visit, they split into two groups to visit UN-funded programs in some of the regions most devastated by the civil war, including Lofa, Nimba, Montserrado and Bomi Counties.
The delegates saw the aftermath of war but also encouraging signs, such as rehabilitated schools, health centres and reintegration programmes for displaced people and refugees, as well as vocational training centers. By seeing the situation on the ground, the board members said they hoped to gain insight and help contribute to Liberia’s reconstruction.
“We found that the Liberian people are indeed a very resilient and hopeful people,” said Ambassador H. E. Paulette A. Bethel, Permanent Representative of the Bahamas to the United Nations. “They are determined to rise again and make this country all that it can be.”
The challenges and opportunities ahead will be reflected in reports by the UNICEF Executive Board members and other UN delegates now returning from their mission to one of Africa’s most dynamic democracies.
“As I leave Liberia,” said Second Counsellor Fernande Houngbedji of Benin’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, “I realize that there is hope to rebuild – to bring a better life to the population and to help this country.”