Analytical summary - The physical environment
Liberia encompasses 43% of the Upper Guinea Forest. The annual consumption of woody biomass is estimated to be 10.8 million tonnes for fire wood and 36 500 tonnes for charcoal. The current rate of deforestation is 0.6%, which has resulted in 42.7% loss of forest cover. Shifting cultivation, timber exploitation, poverty, population pressures, coastal erosion, monoculture plantation, poaching and hunting, and lack of land use planning are threatening forest resources. United Nations' experts predict that, without appropriate regulation and deterrents, achievement of 41.2% forest cover will be unattainable in 2015.
Generally, a good environment offers an opportunity for economic growth, development and better health conditions, while a poor environment exposes household members, especially children, to infectious diseases that cause illnesses such as diarrhoea and cholera and leads to mortality.
The Liberia demography and health survey 2007 reports a high infant mortality rate (71 deaths per 1000 live births), largely as a result of infectious diseases that are related to environmental health. Acute respiratory infections, pneumonia and other preventable diseases are among the top 10 causes of morbidity and mortality, while a high incidence of malnutrition, diarrhoeal and parasitic diseases is frequently reported in children. There are also regular epidemics of cholera in Liberia as a result of poor sanitation and limited access to improved water supply.
The underlying causes of most of these diseases are related to:
- poor hygiene and sanitation at personal, household and community levels
- contaminated food and water
- lack of occupational health and safety at work
- inadequate control of health-related matters at ports of entry
- lack of control of disease vectors and parasites
- poor housing and settlement
- inadequate handling of disaster and emergencies
- a contaminated environment as a result of inadequate liquid and solid waste management.
Waterborne diseases are transmitted through poor water, human contact, eating utensils, insects and contaminated soils. Children aged under 5 years are the most susceptible to diarrhoea due to poor living conditions, lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and poor hygiene education. Only 25% and 15% of the population has access to safe drinking water and proper human waste collection and disposal systems, respectively. Experience from around the world shows that waterborne diseases are much higher in children living in poor housing settlements, compared with those in urban residential areas with formal and adequate sanitation and water supply.
Acute respiratory tract infections and respiratory conditions primarily occur in areas of poor housing due to poor indoor air quality. The most severe air pollution occurs in homes where families use wood or coal with poor ventilation, so that smoke and small particles are inhaled. This is primarily found in rural areas.
Vector-borne diseases such as malaria, Lassa fever and river blindness are common in Liberia. Malaria is the most common reason for outpatient consultations, accounting for 38% of all outpatient visits. Lassa fever and river blindness are endemic in the country.
Data from the Liberia demography and health survey 2007 show that only 10% of Liberian households use an improved, unshared toilet facility, and 90% only have access to a non-improved facility. Over half (55%) of households do not use any toilet facility. Many of these households without toilet facilities use either bushes or rivers. There has been no improvement in toilet facilities since 1999–2000, when 11% of households had access to flush toilets.
These results indicate that considerable resources, dedication and effort are needed to improve toilet facilities in Liberia.