Crisis in Liberia: Malnutrition Rates Spike in Monrovia

Action Against Hunger’s nutritional surveys indicate alarming rates of malnutrition in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia: more than 12,500 children under five years of age are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Action Against Hunger, overseeing nutritional activities in Monrovia, has responded with urgent calls for international assistance.

In Liberia since 1990, Action Against Hunger / Action Contre la Faim’s (ACF) latest round of nutritional surveys shows extremely disturbing results that indicate a significant nutritional crisis in Grand Monrovia: of the 800 children weighed, measured, and examined, 17.6% (Z-score) suffer from acute malnutrition. These figures surpass the 15% threshold that defines a nutritional crisis, and when extrapolated to the city’s actual population, they indicate that 12,500 children under 5 years of age are subject to this life-threatening condition. While younger children are typically more vulnerable, the mortality rates uncovered in our field research are sufficient to trigger a worldwide alert, underscoring both the severity of the crisis and revealing a far broader public health crisis in Monrovia due to a general lack of health facilities, difficulties of access for the poor, and deplorable states of hygiene and sanitation in many areas.

Endemic Poverty in Monrovia

Despite Liberia’s relative stability—peace accords were signed in 2003—the consequences of 14 years of war and conflict have ruined the country and its basic infrastructure. In the hope of rebuilding better lives, “the populations have left the refugee camps to move back to the city hoping for a better quality of life, but they now find themselves confronted by mass urban poverty,” explains Gilsel Stien, Action Against hunger’s lead nutritionist overseeing the surveys in February.

Moderate and severe malnutrition persist in Monrovia largely because government and private health structures have limited capacity to effectively manage treatment or initiate preventative action. Years of war have also disrupted the transmission of basic knowledge among families: several mothers, for example, no longer knew how to feed or care for their children. And the fact that the youngest children were among the most affected indicates that poor weaning practices play a major role in the persistence of malnutrition.

Call for International Action

Liberia is widely seen as a country in transition toward development, and rightly so: development projects have become much more prevalent than emergency relief interventions. That said, ACF is concerned that perceptions of these broader improvements could mask the persistence of life-threatening conditions with the potential to trigger sudden relapses into states of nutritional crisis. Malnutrition continues to weaken the Liberian populace as a whole—especially children under five—but its urgency is often relegated to second-tier status behind the general emphasis on reconstruction and development.

Action Against Hunger is committed to carrying on the fight against acute malnutrition and poor healthcare in Liberia through our involvement with existing nutritional structures, the provision of support to local partners, and through our work with the Ministry of Health, but we cannot do it alone: ACF therefore calls on the international community, institutions of international finance, and influential citizens to come to the aid of these threatened populations.