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Introduction to Country Context

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The Republic of Liberia is situated on the west coast of Africa, bounded by Guinea to the north, Côte D’Ivoire to the east, Sierra Leone to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. It is a relatively small nation, covering approximately 111 369 km2 and has a population of fewer than 4 million people.


Liberia contains 40% of West Africa’s rainforest. The climate is tropical with a wet season from mid-April to mid-October and a dry season from mid-October to mid-April.

The country is divided into 15 political subdivisions, called counties: Bomi, Bong, Gbarpolu, Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Lofa, Margibi, Maryland, Montserrado, Nimba, Rivercess, River Gee and Sinoe. Monrovia is Liberia’s largest city and serves as its administrative, commercial and financial capital.

Liberia’s population is estimated to be 3 476 608, with an annual growth rate of approximately 2.1%.[1] As a result of greater security in urban centres during war times and greater access to jobs, services and social gratification during peace time, 47% of the population lives in urban areas. According to the 2008 National population and housing census, the population is 50.1% male and 49.9% female.[1]

Liberia’s population is young, with approximately 52.7% of the population under the age of 20 years. The relatively young population, combined with factors such as high rates of teenage pregnancy (32%) and low levels of contraceptive prevalence (11% overall; 7% in rural areas) contribute to Liberia’s high total fertility rate of 5.9 children per woman.[2]

Education remains a major challenge for Liberia. Adult literacy (for those 15 years or older) is 59.1%, an improvement over the national average of 42.8% in 1994, though still lower than the regional average for sub-Saharan Africa (61.9%).[3] The gross enrolment ratio at primary school level between 2005 and 2009 was 96% for males and 86% for females.

The Liberia demographic and health survey 2007 shows that literacy among adult women is far lower (41%) than for men (70%).[4] The difference is much larger at older ages; only 17% of women ages 45─49 years are literate, compared with 62% of men. Although the discrepancies in literacy by sex have declined among the younger generations, large gaps remain: only 58% of women age 15─19 years are literate, compared with 73% of men age 15─19 years.

According to the 2010 United Nations Development Programme's Human development report, Liberia ranked 162nd out of 169 countries and 13th out of the 15 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries in the Human Development Index. The report states that the average life expectancy in Liberia was 59 years, the adult literacy rate was 55% and the combined gross school enrolment was 57%.

Progress is being made on some of the Millennium Development Goals, for example access to improved drinking water and school enrolment are both improving but the impact of the civil conflict will make it difficult to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s 2010 economic outlook, Liberia’s 2010 estimated per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was US$ 247, down from peak at US$ 970 (80%) in 1980. In June 2010, Liberia completed the heavily indebted poor countries process and received a total external debt cancellation of US$ 4.6 billion (equivalent to 800% of GDP). However, while the economy is reviving, in light of the global economic contraction, gradually reducing donor support and the number of competing national priorities, the funds available for health and social welfare are unpredictable for the next 10 years.

A large number of Liberians remain unemployed and the economy is highly dependent on sectors based on natural resources. Fiscal resources, while enhanced recently through foreign aid, remain limited. The ratio of tax to GDP is only 0.3%, representing a major constraint on the Government of Liberia’s ability to invest in infrastructure, health and education.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 2008 National population and housing census: preliminary results (pdf 680.08kb). Monrovia, Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), 2008
  2. Liberia malaria indicator survey, 2009. Monrovia, Government of Liberia, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, 2009
  3. UIS statistics in brief, education (all levels) – profile Liberia. Paris, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  4. Liberia demographic and health survey 2007 (2.5Mb). Monrovia, Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare National AIDS Control Program and Macro International, 2008