By: Varney Dukuly
Claim: WASH Commission head says Weah’s administration reduced Open Defecation from 42% in 2018 to 38%.
Verdict: Misleading. A scrutiny of the WHO data provided by Mr Bobby Whitefield shows that while it is true that Open Defecation reduced to 37.7% (38%) in 2020 under Weah, it was not 42% in 2018 when Weah won power. It was 38.8% (39%).
The Water and Sanitation Hygiene Commission, styled as the “WASH Commission” is a state-owned institution. The commission is tasked as the principal government agency to regulate and promote Sanitation and Hygiene Services in Liberia. Open defecation (OD) refers to the percentage of the population defecating in the open, such as in fields, forests, bushes, open bodies of water, on beaches, in other open spaces, or disposed of with solid waste.
In Liberia, poor sanitation, particularly Open Defecation is among issues that are not given much coverage, although it remains a critical issue in the country. It is also an explicit focus of SDG 6.2.
Given how critical the issue of Open Defecation is, it is important to hear President Weah talk to the nation about the subject and the efforts government is making to improve sanitation. The President’s assurances will be hinged on information provided by the only Water and Sanitation & Hygiene Commission in Liberia headed by Mr Bobby Whitefield.
Recently, he told the state broadcaster, ELBC, that President George Weah will have so much to mention about the commission when he delivers his annual message to the nation on January 30.
In an interview with State Radio, Whitefield stated that “the President will be able to indicate to Liberians in his annual message that under his leadership, the country has cut down the open defecation rate from 42% to 38%.”
He said: “Under the leadership of President Weah, the country has cut down the open defecation rate from 42% to 38%.” The Weah-led administration took office in 2018 and is currently still in power; Whitefield’s statement suggests that the reduction occurred between 2018 and 2023.
He maintained that the latest statistic is huge progress, adding, “it is expected to add colours to the Liberian leader’s State of the Nation address.”
The WASH Boss made the statement on Thursday, January 12, 2023, on the Super Morning Show, a live radio program on the Liberia Broadcasting System. He can be heard during the 37 mins of the program, which lasted for 54:04 sec.
The particular statement followed a question, “if the President was to mention WASH Commission in his annual message, what would be the compelling storyline?” asked the host.
DUBAWA reached out to Bobby Whitfield on Whatsapp to clarify his statement about the reduction in open defecation. He referred to the latest Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) Report as his source.
“This is the latest Joint Monitoring Program report (JMP) report conducted by WHO and UNICEF and measures access to water, sanitation and hygiene.”
Image: Screenshot of the conversation
Given the urgent need for better sanitation and a further reduction of open defecation in Liberia, DUBAWA decided to explore the matter and assess the data available from statutory institutions and international organizations.
Using the document given us by Whitfield, we were able to extract information that partly confirms his statement. The latest WHO/UNICEF 2020 Joint Monitoring Program Report was published in 2020 and updated in 2021.
Image: Screenshot of data summary (OD highlighted in the blue box).
According to the report, Open defecation (OD) reached 37.7%, approximately 38%, as stated by Whitfield. However, the same report suggests that in 2018 OD was 38.8, not 42 as he claimed.
We consulted other credible sources to compare the data available on OD in Liberia.
According to data from the World Bank, open defecation was at 39% in 2018 and has fallen steadily up to 2020. The Bank’s data for people practising open defecation in Liberia covers the year 2000 to 2020.
Also, Wateraid Liberia, on Jan 23, 2023, posted on its official Twitter page that “38% of the people in Liberia practice open defecation, and this results in sanitation-related diseases.”
Apart from these Facebook and Twitter posts from Wateraid, there is no latest report or data beyond 2020 on Liberia for open defecation that can be accessed to authenticate.
Can Weah be credited for the 42% to 38% reduction in Open Defecation?
President George Weah ascended to the Liberian Presidency on January 22, 2018, following an overwhelming victory in the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections in Liberia, which marks the first major transition in post-war Liberia.
Open defecation in Liberia, as of 2018, was at 38.8%, with a total population of 1,868,885.
Image: 2018 JMP data on OD
By 2020, the Liberian population had increased to 1,905,886, and the OD rate had gone down to 37.7%, according to the JMP report 2020.
Image: 2020 JMP data on OD
A scrutiny of the data provided by Bobby Whitfield shows that while it is true OD may have reduced to 37% in 2020 during President Weah, it was not 42% in 2018, as he stated. Rather it was 38.8%.
It is expected that government and its development partners will work hand-in-hand to reduce open defecation, if it cannot stop it completely.
“The researcher produced this fact-check per the DUBAWA 2023 Kwame Karikari Fellowship partnership with OK FM to facilitate the ethics of “Truth” in Journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.”