President Johnson Sirleaf and Oxfam call for $60m Liberia school upgrade

Published: 3rd March 2015

Opportunity to leave Liberia’s children with a post-Ebola legacy

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and international agency Oxfam today called on donors and others to join forces to support the government’s $60 million appeal to upgrade Liberian schools with water and sanitation facilities as thousands of children across the country return to school for the first time in six months. 

The international agency has been invited by the President to co-host a briefing for governments and donors on the issue and will pay its part, along with many other organizations, in efforts to improve water and sanitation in schools. 

The call comes on the day leaders of the affected countries and senior figures from the UN, African Union and EU gather at the 'High-Level Ebola Conference' at Egmont Palace in Brussels to discuss action to finally eliminate the disease, as well as major recovery needs. 

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said: 

"As thousands of schools in Liberia reopen their doors post-Ebola, it is clear that the lack of clean water, hand washing and sanitation facilities are major stumbling blocks in helping our children develop life-changing habits which will enhance their health for the long term. 
“Investment in water and sanitation is critical to help guard against future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases. 
“I am pleased to be working with Oxfam and other partners to make our schools safe by providing clean learning environments where they can succeed."

Liberia’s schools are in a parlous state. More than half of the country’s 4,600 schools have no water supply and 43 percent of schools lack working toilets. Even where there is some sort of facility, on average one toilet is shared by more than 100 pupils. With nearly 60 percent of children never going to school, Liberia has the second worse figures in the world for the percentage of children not in education, after Eritrea. 

New analysis by the Government of Liberia, Oxfam, UNICEF and others estimates that providing water and sanitation for 2,800 of the most needy Liberian schools without these basic facilities would cost approximately $60m over the next two years. 

Oxfam GB’s chief executive Mark Goldring said: 

“Ebola is not over and we must continue to ensure we eliminate this deadly disease. We also have to prepare for a post-Ebola future. Communities have told us their most pressing concern is sending their children back to school. This appeal for water and sanitation in all schools will help boost Liberia’s educational performance and be a lasting post-Ebola legacy to its children. 

“The recovery process for affected countries is a chance not just to rebuild but to improve essential services, reduce inequality and accelerate their long-term development, helping to ensure Ebola outbreaks like this never happen again.” 

In focus group discussions carried out by Oxfam in early February in three townships hit hard by Ebola in Liberia's Montserrado County, getting children back into education was the priority issue consistently raised by parents, in particular concerns about affordability of fees and threat of disease in schools. Their other two main pressing issues were being free of the threat of Ebola and to start earning a living. 

Liberia’s children have been deprived of education since August due to the Ebola outbreak. While some schools reopened on 16 February, the majority opened their doors yesterday. Though Liberia last week reopened borders and lifted a curfew it remains vulnerable to possible cross border infections from Guinea and Sierra Leone until the region reaches zero cases. Even as recovery gets underway, continued urgency and focus on responding and preventing Ebola is critical. 

Water and sanitation has been found to improve children’s learning, as healthy students in healthy environments learn more effectively. Nutrition deficiencies, diarrhoea and worm infestations related to poor sanitation and unhygienic conditions all affect school participation and learning. Decent sanitation facilities also increase school attendance and for adolescent girls in particular have been shown to reduce truancy, absenteeism and dropout rates. 

Studies show that if good hygiene habits are learned at school, children can promote improved practices within their families and communities, helping to reduce disease.

Water and sanitation is also a sound investment. On average every $1 invested in water and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa brings a $2.5 return, according to the World Health Organization. 

Investment in water and sanitation is critical to help guard against future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Liberian President

Notes to editors

Media case studies of a parent, teacher and student on their concerns about going back to school:

Summary briefing with statistics on costs of providing water and sanitation in Liberian schools:

The cost of providing water and sanitation to schools is estimated to be $60.5million maximized over the next two years, according to new analysis by the WASH technical working group for WASH in Liberian schools, which comprises the Ministry for Public Works, Ministry of Education, UNICEF, Oxfam, Save the Children and other partners. Oxfam is currently working in 133 schools in Nimba and Montserrado counties, rehabilitating them with wells, water points and latrines, according to need. 

Ebola is Still Here: a collection of key concerns of communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia on what is needed to get to zero Ebola cases and to help them to rebuild their lives.

UNESCO figures show that only Eritrea has more primary school children out of school than Liberia:

Oxfam carried out focus group discussions and individual interviews from 8-12 February 2015 on the impact of Ebola and priorities for recovery in New Kru Town, Westpoint and Clara Town in Monrovia, Montserrado County, deprived townships that have been Ebola hotspots. The sample of around 100 people included community leaders, Ebola task force members, women and youth groups. 

Oxfam is responding to the Ebola outbreak and will contribute to the recovery. We plan to spend $43 million in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal to help over 3.2 million people. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, Oxfam has already reached over 1.1 million people through working with communities and supporting schools and medical facilities with water, sanitation and cleaning equipment. In Liberia, this includes about 346,000 people in Montserrado County, where we have pioneered active case finding on a mass-scale through close working with community volunteers to gain trust and encourage people to seek treatment early.

Contact information

Oxfam spokespeople are available for interviews in Brussels and Liberia, please contact Oxfam press office to arrange:

Melanie Kramers, Monrovia: +231 770563329 
Àngela Corbalán, Brussels : +32 (0) 2 234 11 15, + 32 (0) 473 56 22 60, @AngelaCorbalan
Ian Bray, Oxford : +44 (0)1865 472289, + 44 (0)7721 461339 

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.