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Ten years after end of civil war, nation’s power grid largely dormant

Ten years after end of civil war, nation’s power grid largely dormant

Ten years after end of civil war, nation’s power grid largely dormant

By on Aug 20, 2013 in Liberia0 comments

Philip Marcelo
 SPECIAL TO THE JOURNAL / AUGUSTINE KIMBA The Mount Coffee hydroelectric dam is critical to Liberia's efforts to restore power nationwide. Located about two hours outside Monrovia near the village of Arthington, it was badly damaged and looted during the country's civil war. Now 10 years after the 2003 end of fighting, the dam remains dormant but plans are underway to repair it.


SPECIAL TO THE JOURNAL / AUGUSTINE KIMBA
The Mount Coffee hydroelectric dam is critical to Liberia’s efforts to restore power nationwide. Located about two hours outside Monrovia near the village of Arthington, it was badly damaged and looted during the country’s civil war. Now 10 years after the 2003 end of fighting, the dam remains dormant but plans are underway to repair it.

MONROVIA, Liberia — Every evening, communities across this West African nation of about 3.5 million people plunge into darkness.

Cell phones, flashlights, and headlights from an occasional car illuminate the still busy streets of rural Liberia.

In the capital city of Monrovia, a limited power grid provides electricity to the few who can afford to connect to it, keeping major market and commercial areas mostly lit late into the night.

But for the majority of the country, costly and sometimes dangerous generator power is the only source of electricity.

Liberia’s once-functioning power grid was destroyed during its nearly 14 years of civil war.

Power plants, electricity substations, and transmission lines were all either badly damaged during the fighting, or vandalized and stripped of valuable materials in the intervening years.

Now, ten years after the end of fighting, generating sufficient energy remains a massive challenge.

As of last year, less than one percent of Monrovia residents had access to electricity and just about one half of one percent of the entire nation had access to electricity.

On Saturday, my last full day in Liberia, I traveled to the village of Arthington, about two hours outside Monrovia.

There, I visited the Mount Coffee hydroelectric dam, which had once provided power to more than a third of the country and is critical to the country’s efforts to restore electricity nationwide.

There does not appear to be any sign of activity at the dam, which remains a rusting hulk of metal easily accessible to the public. Here’s photographer Augustine Kimba’s photos from the visit.

But the government, I’m told, is preparing to rebuild it and has improved the dirt road leading from Monrovia to Arthington and the dam site.

Work is expected to begin in September. The government hopes to have the dam operational by 2015.

The challenge, of course, has been raising the necessary funds. Liberia has so far received contributions from the governments of Norway and Germany, which appear to be enough to get the dam project launched.

While I was in Arthington, I also saw the water pumps and latrines that the Pawtucket-based Higher Ground International has built to serve the 15,000 or so residents of the village and surrounding area.

Here’s Kimba’s photos from the afternoon in the village.

Augustus Menyongai, Higher Ground’s coordinator in Liberia, says villagers have for generations relied on the rivers and creeks around the community for drinking, washing and bathing, which leaves them prone to illness.

He also says the village has been largely ignored by government and non-governmental organizations during the post war years because of its history: it was the hometown of former president and warlord Charles Taylor.

For that reason, Menyongai said, Arthington became a key battleground during the country’s Second Civil War, which pitted President Taylor against a coalition of rebel groups of rural Liberia.

Menyongai pointed to a now-destroyed Baptist church that Taylor had grandly rebuilt when he became president in 1997 as well as the sprawling rice and cassava fields that Taylor had once owned, now overgrown.

Taylor was forced to resign in 2003, ending Liberia’s years of conflict.

Said Charlotte Wright, a Monrovia resident who was visiting her aunt in Arthington the day we visited: “Arthington is the land that time forgot.”

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