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Liberia’s President tells UN and UNICEF delegates education is key to development

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf discusses key issues of peace and development in a meeting with delegates from UN agencies, including UNICEF.

By Sabine Dolan

MONROVIA, Liberia, 28 February 2007 – The President of Liberia has emphasized the urgent need to get children back to school as her country struggles to rebuild after almost 15 years of civil conflict.

At a meeting yesterday with 19 delegates from the Executive Boards of four UN agencies, including UNICEF, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said education was the key to rebuilding and sustaining peace.

Education and training are priorities not just for young children but for “all our young people who have been involved in conflict and have been disarmed,” she said. “In the case of girls, who have been disadvantaged over time, we need to reverse that because it’s 50 per cent of our population whose capabilities are needed.”

Realities on the ground

Members of the boards of UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme and the United Nations Population Fund are discussing key development issues and UN cooperation in Liberia this week. Besides meeting with the President, they have talked with other government officials as well as representatives of the private sector and civil society.

© UNICEF Liberia/2007/Scott
In an example of joint UN reconstruction assistance, three agencies – UNDP, WFP and UNICEF – are working to renovate Tennebu Government School in Lofa County, Liberia.

The joint visit to Liberia is intended to help the delegates better understand realities on the ground and see UN-funded programmes firsthand.

“Liberia is a good example of how the United Nations system, in cooperation with the country’s government and other partners, contributes to moving from post-crisis transition to reconstruction, recovery and development,” said UNFPA Board Vice President José Briz-Gutiérrez of Guatemala.

Challenging transition to peace

Since Liberia’s civil conflict ended in 2003, the country has faced colossal challenges:

  • More than 76 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, earning less than $1 a day
  • Only 26 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water supplies
  • Only 40 per cent of the population has access to education
  • Unemployment is staggering, with 85 per cent of the population out of work.

Half the UN delegation will visit Nimba County – one of the worst affected by the war – while the other half will travel to Lofa County, where most of the population was displaced during the conflict. The delegates will also spend time in the Montserrado and Bomi Counties.

After years of social turbulence, there are now great expectations for Liberia’s future. But as the UNICEF and other UN delegates have seen, much work lies ahead on the road to recovery.


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