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Overview: Reconstruction in a Post-Conflict Situation

In 2008 I was asked by the World Bank to visit Liberia, which at that time was still recovering from over 20 years of civil war and civil unrest, to provide technical assistance to the Division of Educational Facilities of the Ministry of Education in their school construction programme.  I later worked on a small health project and then, even later, a major project to construct a new hospital, a project that is still ongoing.

In 1980 there was a military coup that overthrew the then government.  This was followed by five years of military rule and another five years of authoritarian civilian government.  This period of relative stability was followed by two very bitter civil wars during which time around 250,000 people died, the rule of law broke down completely and the economy shrank by 90%; the situation only being resolved in 2003 when a peace agreement was reached between the warring parties.  Elections followed in 2005 when Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was elected President.  The country was just starting to recover from the previous twenty years or so of civil unrest when its political stability and economic recovery was threatened by the outbreak of Ebola in early 2014 which ended in May 2015.  It is estimated that 85% of the population are still living below the international poverty line.

During the extended period of civil war and unrest, the education system was severely affected; many schools being destroyed and/or closed especially up-country and in 2010 the literacy rate was still only around 61%.  Governance was also affected and in 2010, corruption was still considered to be endemic at every level of government.  When President Sirleaf took office in 2006, she announced that corruption was "the major public enemy" and in 2014, the US ambassador to Liberia stated that corruption there was harming people through "unnecessary costs to products and services that are already difficult for many Liberians to afford".

The effect of the long period of civil war and unrest on the construction industry was that there had been few, if any major construction projects in the country for an extended period (the last major school building project for instance had taken place in the early 1980s) with the result that there had been a loss of capacity and skills in the local construction industry.  There was a scarcity of construction companies able to take on large projects and even the smaller local contractors were badly affected by this lack of capacity and by being unable to obtain credit from banks and materials suppliers.

There was also a significant scarcity of trained and experienced architectural and engineering skills available for the design and supervision of any large-scale construction projects.  While the University of Liberia had a department of engineering, the opportunities for the structural and civil engineers that the department produced to obtain experience in the design and supervision of construction projects were severely limited.  There was not (and there still is not) a school of architecture in the country, only a few architectural technician courses and the only qualified architects had been trained overseas mainly in the USA and their education had probably not been very relevant to practice in a tropical country such as Liberia.

The geography and climate of the country also contributed to the constraints on construction.  The country lies between latitudes 4°and 9° north of the equator meaning that it is in the hot and humid tropics.  It has an extended rainy season lasting from May to October (and with climate change this period seems to get longer every year) with large amounts of rainfall during this period.  The coastal region for instance receives around 3 metres of rain during the rainy season (and the capital Monrovia can receive as much as 5 metres of rain) and even inland the rainfall is around 2 metres a year.  This extended rainy season and the large amounts of rainfall severely limit the amount of construction that can be achieved in a year.

Any large countrywide construction programme would also be constrained by the geography of the country.  While the majority of the country consists of rolling countryside, a lot of it still covered by tropical rainforest and rubber plantations, there are numerous rivers flowing down to the sea, bisecting the country and making communications, especially by road, very difficult particularly during the rainy season.  The south-eastern part of the country was and probably still is, impossible to reach by road for at least three months during the rainy season.

Another problem that had to be faced was the fact that virtually all building materials (apart from aggregate) had and still have to be imported.  There is a cement factory but the raw materials for this are imported.  Galvanised steel roof sheets are rolled locally but the flat sheets are imported (and only 28 gauge and 32 gauge sheets are produced).  All other building materials are imported and most of these are of poor quality although expensive.

All of these factors have an impact on the design and implementation of any construction programme and produce what must be one of the most difficult environments in which to undertake large-scale construction projects.

For details of the school construction projects that I worked on and the problems that I faced, see the ‘Education Projects’ section below.

Projects in Liberia

Projects in Liberia
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