Achieving a Clean Environment : The Liberian Experience PIELC 2010, Eugene, Oregon February 27, 2010
About Us • Green Advocates is a non-governmental organization based in Monrovia, Liberia; • Green Advocates was founded in 2001 for the purpose of protecting the environment, advancing human rights protection and advocacy through sound environmental practices, and giving a voice to rural, indigenous, and tribal people. Green Advocates is Liberia’s first public interest environmental institution • Specifically, our programs include: 1.) Natural Resources and EITI/PWYP Campaigns; 2.) Corporate Accountability; 3.) Budget Advocacy/Debt Campaign; 4.) Water Resources; 5.) Fisheries; 6.) Forest Integrity Program; 7.) Environmental Governance Initiative; 8.) Community Rights Initiative; 9.) Public Interest Law and Advocacy; 11.) Transitional Justice; and 12.) Media Tour.
Our Engagement Strategies • At Green Advocates, we’ve recognized the strong linkages between poverty and the environment; • We’ve also recognized that solving poverty-related issues will also amount to solving environmental problems because people striving to leap out of poverty often engage in informal activities (such as small-scale enterprises) with implications for the environment; • Our approach, therefore, is challenging the status quo by working with the Government of Liberia and other stakeholders to reform the policy environment in support of sustainable forest management and mining that are also environmentally sustainable.
Engagement Strategies Cont… • We encourage recognition for the informal sector (such as small-scale forest enterprises, artisanal and small-scale mining, charcoal producers, artisanal fishermen, etc.) to achieve formal status and regulation in keeping with law and international best practice; • Support the progressive development of small-scale enterprise side-by-side multinational investment because we believe that it is not possible to effectively fight poverty without creating wealth;
The Environment in Liberia • Until recently, the environment had no place in national development planning including the granting of concessions; • In monitoring and evaluating environmental commitments in mining and forestry activities, we’ve developed a user-friendly EIA Toolkit to enhance the work of community members, civil society and other stakeholders ; • Delayed the expansion of a multinational rubber plantation owned by the Liberia Agriculture Company until the company took steps to dialogue with local communities and meet requirements on the Environmental Impact Assessment Requirements; • In the Mano River Basin (comprising Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Coted’Ivoire), we are holding consultations on a regional platform that addresses a wide range of challenges including good governance and environmental and social issues associated with mining and forestry; • On the home front, our greatest environmental challenge is with the Firestone-Liberia Rubber Company which begun operation in 1926.
The Environment in Liberia • Firestone and Local Communities: The story of a poisoned generation • (1937 – Present)
Pollution at Firestone-Liberia Rubber Company • Since 1937, Firestone is still discharging waste water containing undisclosed chemicals used in its rubber process activities into the Farmington River which is a source of livelihood for over 15,000 residents; • The pollution of both air and water have become intolerable; • Joint advocacy by Green Advocates and community members forced Firestone to stop polluting Water at Owensgrove and the construction of a waste treatment facility; • Since 2008, waste water has been directed to a nearby community, Kparnyah Town where Firestone ,also, began dumping wastes from their hospitals and bungalows into a valley connecting the creeks in the community; • At Kparnyah Town, two community members died from unknowingly drinking the contaminated water
My Story on the Pollution at Firestone highlights the plight of Borbor and other well known local fishermen who are unable to walk due to unexplained swollen feet and skin rashes after years in the Farmington River
Effects of Pollution at Firestone • Affected communities existed long before the founding of the Liberian state, in 1822, and the arrival of Firestone in 1926; • Local communities suffered mass eviction at the hands of both the Government of Liberia and Firestone without any form of compensation; • Daily breathing difficulties and irritations in the eyes from the processing activities at the company; • Complete loss of livelihood (as fishermen) from the pollution of the Farmington River; • Lack of knowledge on chemicals imported and used by Firestone in processing latex; • Lack of knowledge on the impact of each chemical used by Firestone on human health; and • Impact of pollution on the health of children and adults including skin rashes, death, diarrhea and unknown thick substance which sets in the eyes of children when they wake from bed daily. They receive showers in the yes each day before seeing.
Actions on Pollution at Firestone Cont.. • Complaints of ongoing pollution, and public outcry, led to an investigation by an Inter-agency Investigative Committee appointed by the President of Liberia; • In October 2009, the Committee found Firestone guilty of polluting the water at Kparnyah Town; • Instead of enforcing the environmental law that will see the application of the “No impunity clause”, the “Polluter-Pay Principle”, a medical checks of local communities and compensation levels, the Committee handed down a weak penalty recommending Firestone to hold dialogue with community members and counter-check its waster Treatment Facility. • The Liberian EPA is yet to make public results of water samples taken at the plantation; • In response to a small proposal from community members as requested by Firestone to resolve the pollution issue, Firestone wrote a lengthy defensive letter, on February 3, 2010, denying the findings and community claims:
Pollution at Firestone • “…Since the water treatment facility’s opening, analytical data and samples gathered at strategic locations throughout the system have confirmed that the water quality improves with each step in this treatment process. This type of water treatment system is unparallel in Liberia...” • Our Question for Firestone: If the processed waste water is so good, why is it not being recycled or returned to the company/plant for processing additional rubber or latex?
Additional response to Firestone’s Claim • Without specifics, this is an empty claim. Firestone Liberia should share with the Liberian EPA and the Kparnyah people analytical data and samples gathered at strategic locations throughout the system; and • The possibility that this “type of water treatment system is unparalleled in Liberia” does not mean that such system is adequate.
Next Steps • An “SOS” call to all lovers of “clean environment” to help us “STOP FIRESTONE” now! • Considering a “Pollution suit” against Firestone for abuse of the environment and people; • Technical support (such as training and equipments) to enable Liberian civil society draw scientific conclusions on water and air quality standards in communities (such as Firestone) facing environmental challenges;
Thank You Francis K.Colee Green Advocates Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa