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Geography, climate and population
Liberia, located in West Africa, covers an area of 111 370 km2. It borders Sierra Leone to the northwest, Guinea to the north, Cote d’Ivoire to the northeast and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south and southwest. Its north-south extent is about 465 km and its Atlantic Ocean coastline is about 520 km long. The terrain comprises mostly flat to rolling coastal plains, rising to rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast. The coastline is characterized by lagoons, mangrove swamps, and river-deposited sandbars. The country can be divided according to elevation into four main physical regions parallel to the coast: i) coastal plains up to 100 m; ii) hills from 100 to 300 m; iii) plateaus from 300 to 600 m; and iv) mountainous areas above 600 m. In 2002, the cultivated area was estimated at 600 000 ha, of which arable land covers 380 000 ha, while 220 000 ha are covered by permanent crops (Table 1).
Liberia’s climate is tropical hot-humid. Winters are dry with hot days and cool to cold nights; summers are wet and cloudy with frequent heavy showers. The rainy season lasts from April to November and average annual rainfall is estimated at 2 391 mm, with a spatial variation from 2 000 to 5 000 mm. Although this is much higher than the quantity of water required for crop growth, an acute water deficit is experienced anyway during a 3 to 5 month period, particularly in the uplands.
Total population in 2004 was 3.5 million, of which 52 percent were rural. Population density was 31 inhabitants/km2.
Liberia is in a post-war period facing serious political, financial, administrative and organizational problems. Ten years of conflict have led to multiple internal displacements of hundreds of thousands of people, disrupted supply of basic social services, increased the vulnerability of women and children to extreme poverty, hunger, disease and HIV/AIDS. Poverty is widespread.
Access to education is limited. An estimated 80 percent of schools, health service structures, water wells and sanitation facilities have been either destroyed or abandoned since 1998. No up-to-date water supply and sanitation coverage data are available, but those still functioning are in alarming and worrying conditions in almost all counties in Liberia. As a result, morbidity and mortality rates remain high and may possibly deteriorate further as populations returning to these areas are expected to increase and thereby overstretch the already either only partly functioning or malfunctioning health and social infrastructures.