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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Road building in Liberia: One UN, many new jobs

by Ch. Narendra Publication Date 18/7/2008 9:16:32 PM(IST)

On the new road from Mt. Barclay into Monrovia, Momo and others are digging a path to more jobs, better lives and hopefully, decent work. And along the way, the involvement of other UN agencies in the ILO-led project is showing how “working as one” can help marshal the efforts of a host of participants to speed the process of peaceful recovery.

“My job is to cut the bush on the road”, says Momo Diggs, one of the workers on the project. “With the money I am earning from my job on the road project, I want to support my children and put them in school. When the road opens, people will come from other villages to sell goods on the market. And the small market will become a bigger market.”

The expansion of the markets isn’t the only benefit of the new road. Since the ILO re-launched technical support activities in Liberia in 2006, it has developed numerous partnerships with other UN agencies, including joint studies with FAO, UNDP and UNHCR that focus on agriculture and on youth employment; joint projects with UNDP for the reintegration of ex-combatants and ILO support of the UNDP project for County Support Team to enhance the process of decentralization in Liberia; with UNV to provide volunteer services to support local economic development in Liberia; with UNIFEM to develop a common programme for “gender and employment generation”, contributing to lasting peace.

The new road, and the new approach of the U.N. agencies here, couldn’t come at a more crucial time for the country’s recovery. With almost no electricity, scant running water, an unemployment rate of more than 80 per cent and a life expectancy of 42 years, Liberia faces major challenges to recover.

But things are changing. Since President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson addressed the ILO’s International Labour Conference in June 2006 to call for decent jobs for all Liberians, an overall employment strategy for decent work in Liberia has been formulated by the Government with the assistance of the ILO and was launched in July 2006.

The road construction project is just one of the visible results of the new strategy. Not only does it provide work for local people, but it will serve as a lifeline to improvement of lives both during its construction and thereafter.

“For every job that is created on the road, five jobs are created off the road”, explains Peter Hall Armstrong, ILO project coordinator. What’s more, the labour-intensive road construction project does not only help to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, but also its values system.
“That’s what has been missing over the years because of the war. Just those values, and when people begin to feel good about the work they are doing and actually start taking a sense of pride in it”, says Natty Davis, a representative of the Liberian Government.

Towards a “One United Nations” approach

A full array of multilateral agencies has joined the ILO on the scene, helping in a variety of ways to meet this colossal development challenge. In addition to bringing the farm-to-market and employment objectives, the project has also attracted the skills and perspectives of other multilateral agencies, as well, like UNICEF.

“What’s important about the program that the ILO has encouraged us all to participate in is that it is going to be broad enough and all encompassing enough to allow even young people without basic skills and without basic literacy … to acquire the kind of life skills that will make them ready and able to get a job and to be able to stay in a job or to stay in a decent work opportunity”, says Rozanna Choritan from UNICEF.

In August 2007, the ILO, together with UNDP, assisted the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration for ex-combatants to design the final stage of their demobilization and reintegration programme, which is linked to parallel programmes on employment creation.

Thus the road and the other projects bring global issues and perspectives into focus. They integrate policy coherence and program convergence in a very practical and coherent way into country-level agendas.

“It’s about bringing out the best in the multilateral system for those who depend on us for a better future and a better life. It’s about weaving together the many strands of our knowledge and expertise, we can deliver as “One United Nations”, concludes Alfredo Lazarte Hoyle, chief of the ILO Programme on Crisis Response and Reconstruction.

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