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Living Conditions Deteriorating Rapidly in Monrovia, says UN - 2003-06-13

United Nations aid agencies say health and living conditions are rapidly deteriorating in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, due to fighting near the city between government and rebel forces. Earlier in the week, most foreign aid workers were airlifted out of the city. Their absence is seriously hampering the delivery of aid.

The World Health Organization is warning that people in Monrovia are on the brink of disaster because they lack food, water, shelter and health care.

WHO spokeswoman Christine McNab says thousands of people are crowded into squalid communal shelters. She says one camp housing internally displaced people, has only one water pump for 1,000 people.

In another camp, the community is charging the displaced people money to use the toilets.

"For poor people who cannot pay, they are using streets in areas around there, where the buildup would certainly cause potential health hazard and risk," she explained. "Food in the local market is depleting rapidly. Prices are reported to be very, very high. Commercial centers and markets are closed, and only street vendors can be seen with little bits of food to sell."

Ms. McNab says a few cases of measles, which is highly infectious, have been reported in Monrovia's football stadium, where nearly 60,000 people are living. She says, with so many people living in such a confined area, the stadium could be a breeding ground for diarrhea and cholera.

The World Food Program says it has food stocks in Monrovia, but because of the insecurity, aid workers in the city are unable to distribute the food.

After the recent outbreak of fighting between government and rebel forces, tens-of-thousands of people fled to the capital from camps outside the city. But not everyone left the camps.

WFP Spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says thousands of people still remain in the seven camps that surround the city, and aid workers have been unable to send food convoys from Monrovia to these camps.

"And what we want, obviously, is to have humanitarian corridors, to be able to go there, evaluate the situation, see who is there and bring food," she said. " You have to remember that these people have been out of food now for nearly six weeks. We have not been able to feed these people because the food was looted immediately after distribution. Our job is not to feed soldiers or rebels, but people that are in need or displaced or refugees."

WFP's Christiane Berthiaume says her agency has appealed to negotiators in Ghana, where peace talks to end the fighting in Liberia are taking place, to get the government and rebel negotiators to agree to allow humanitarian corridors, so that aid can get through.