In 2003, Liberia’s 14-year civil war ended leaving a barely functioning economy, destroyed infrastructure and an impoverished and food-insecure population that had suffered displacement, trauma, and the deaths of over a quarter of a million people. Today, Liberia is making the transition from relief aid to sustainable, market-driven development that will secure a more prosperous future for its citizens. Food insecurity, however, is still prevalent with high rates of stunting (39%) and underweight (19%) among children under the age of five. The majority of Liberia’s population still lacks access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and health services, with 80% of the population, for example, more than a three-hour walk from the nearest functioning health facility.  Furthermore, less than half of all births are attended by skilled health personnel, and poor breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices result in high levels of malnutrition.

In 2010, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace awarded ACDI/VOCA and PCI a five-year, $40 million Title II Multi-Year Assistance Program for Liberia. PCI, working with ACDI/VOCA, John Snow Inc. and Making Cents International, is helping implement the Liberian Agricultural Upgrading, Nutrition and Child Health (LAUNCH) program designed to increase access to food, reduce chronic malnutrition, and increase access to improved livelihood and educational opportunities in Bong and Nimba counties of Liberia.  Chronic malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women and children under two is a major focus of LAUNCH and is addressed by improving infant and young child feeding practices at household level, along with child health and hygiene practices; raising awareness about optimal maternal health and nutrition practices; and strengthening the capacity of local health clinics to improve the prevention and treatment of maternal and child illnesses. PCI is also strengthening the capacity of communities to support and increase access to education. In addition, partner ACDI/VOCA works with rural households to improve farmer’s production and post-harvest practices, integrate cash crops, increase access to savings and credit and develop business skills.  Finally, as part of a strategy to increase resilience, PCI is collaborating with government officials to develop county and community disaster plans and the implementation of an early warning system in target areas.

In alignment with PCI’s focus on preventing malnutrition, LAUNCH’s health and nutrition interventions for women and children are focused on the first “1000 days”, the period of time between when a woman becomes pregnant up through the child’s second birthday.  Proper nutrition during this critical window has a profound impact on a child’s cognitive and physical development and potential for a healthy, productive future.  Over the life of the project, LAUNCH will directly reach a total of 27,051 women and children.

In addition, LAUNCH aims to increase the capacity of local health clinics by training health facility staff at 13 local clinics in the area of maternal and newborn health, nutrition counseling, and effective utilization of referral systems.  As well as training clinic staff, with support from JSI, PCI provides training and support to traditional midwives, birth attendants, and general community health volunteers in essential nutrition and health actions.

As in the health sector where LAUNCH is working with communities to provide sustainable behavior change, the program is also building communities’ capacity to improve education. PCI works with communities, Parent Teacher Associations, teachers and principals to identify local solutions to educational barriers.  Currently 32 primary schools participate in the LAUNCH program and thus far 13 of these have increased the enrollment of girls by at least five percent. PCI coordinates training for teachers in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and to date has provided 2,250 student desks and 240 large blackboards to participating schools.

PCI is working directly with local committees, empowering participants to continue activities long after the program ends.  This includes supporting existing community health committees to better monitor and augment community health initiatives, and addressing pervasive vulnerabilities associated with water and sanitation.  Specific examples of how PCI is promoting sustainability include: forming water committees that will be able to repair water systems; training communities and water committees on how to implement fee-based water user systems; and forming disaster risk reduction committees to be able to better respond and prepare for disasters.  PCI is also currently collaborating with the Government of Liberia to develop a national Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategy that will ensure county and local governments are better able to respond to natural shocks and disasters.

U.S. Agency for International Development

Click here to read PCI’s Liberia fact sheet.