Team 1 (Health) travelled the bumpy road through Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Maryland and Grand Kru. They were rewarded by a very warm reception by the County Health Teams and many health professionals and communities that they met along the way. The Team monitored EU-funded projects implemented by Partners in Health (PIH) and International Rescue Committee (IRC) to support restoration of basic health services in these counties. They also visited project activities implemented by Danish Refugee Council (DRC) aimed at reviving the border communities affected by the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic. They returned to Monrovia very impressed by the support provided by the EU-funded projects and by the dedication of the health professionals they've met. They are confident that the projects have made a contribution to improving the population health indicators, including maternal and child mortality, but also very conscious that these marginal improvements cannot be sustained over time without public investments in the Health Sector.
Team 2 (Infrastructure) had the toughest job fighting mud and bad roads as they drove through Rivercess, Sinoe, Grand Kru, Maryland, RiverGee and Grand Gedeh. They were on a monitoring field visit to the South-East concerning ongoing contracts in the field of Roads, Energy, Education and Voter Registration and were also carrying out identification activities for the future EU funding of Rural Electrification. This includes focusing on bringing the full benefits of the EU-funded Electricity cross border project to the people of Maryland, RiverGee, Grand Gedeh and Nimba. The team also focused attention to how to bring electricity to Grand Kru, Sinoe and Rivercess. They monitored the EU-funded works to rehabilitate the road between Buchanan and Cestos City, as well as the design of the Coastal Highway between Buchanan, Greenville and Harper. They made their way back to Monrovia shaken up by the bad roads, and firmly convinced that road and electricity connectivity are the main requirements for the socioeconomic development of the South East.
Team 3, led by Ambassador Intelmann, met with the County Superintendents of Maryland and Grand Kru and their teams. She also addressed the Council of Presidents and students of William V. S. Tubman University in Harper to present the European Union and its cooperation with Liberia. Amb Intelmann and her Team visited in person some of the 72 clinics and Health Centres that have been supported with EU funding in the last year. They also shared a kola nut ceremony and had discussions with the Watchoken Community in Maryland. The authorities, the students and the communities expressed their gratitude to Amb Intelmann for the EU support, but also their concerns for the scarcity of economic opportunities which is forcing more and more youth to move to larger cities in search of employment.
The 3 EU Teams travelled back to Monrovia extremely impressed by the warm reception and the determination of the people of the South-East, and with a much better understanding of their challenges:
Poor road and electricity connectivity are a very serious concern as they're slowing down development and considerably increasing the cost of living. This is a problem that needs to be approached with extreme urgency, but also with the understanding that it will take years of sustained investments to lift the region out of its isolation. The EU has taken some preliminary steps by funding the design of the Coastal Highway and by exploring options to support increased access to electricity;
Health and Nutrition indicators remain extremely worrying, especially in some of the Counties. Donor funded projects have been providing temporary relief in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak but they are not sustainable in the long run. The NGO partners have done a terrific job but they are going to leave a big gap when the projects come to an end. The Health workforce is extremely motivated and competent, despite the fact that they're operating under very challenging circumstances. Careful planning and execution of Liberia's own budgetary resources are key to ensure a smooth phasing out of donor-funded projects;
The South-East has an enormous economic potential, especially in terms of agriculture, fisheries and natural resources. They also have a very well established and prestigious University to train qualified professionals. Reforms to improve the business climate are key to promote agricultural value addition and job creation. The EU will explore how to best factor in this in the programming of its agricultural programme;
It is encouraging to see that the voters' registration is progressing well despite the challenges and that more County Service Centres will soon be opened in the South-East. This is crucial to bring the government closer to people in remote areas. The EU is one of the main funding partners behind these processes.
Ambassador Intelmann thanked the authorities and the people of the South-East for the very warm welcome and for sharing their views. Upon returning from her tour she declared that "as international partners it is crucial that we look as closely and as broadly as possible into the challenges that different parts of the country are facing. Development is never a single factor equation. This multi-team mission has been a very interesting format which we hope to repeat soon in other parts of Liberia".