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Health, Security Conditions Reach Alarming Level in Liberia's Capital - 2003-06-17


U.N. aid agencies say health and security conditions in Liberia's capital are continuing to deteriorate. Thousands of people have streamed into Monrovia in recent weeks to escape fighting between government and rebel troops.

The World Health Organization says the health situation in and around Monrovia is alarming.

WHO Spokeswoman Christine McNab says nearly 100,000 displaced people are living in temporary shelters. Because access to clean water is limited in many of the camps, Ms. McNab says the refugees are vulnerable to diseases that thrive in crowded areas where sanitary facilities are lacking.

"In the SKD football stadium, which is the largest camp in Monrovia, malaria and diarrhea [are] on the increase," said Ms. McNab. "WHO has been distributing essential medicines, including antibiotics, anti-malarials and anti-worming drugs.

"This was done in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and with an NGO [non-governmental organization]," she continued. "However, hospitals will run out of medicines and medical supplies very soon and are requesting support from the international community."

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, Kris Janowski, says hundreds of thousands of people in Liberia are living in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. He says his agency is already assisting more than 500 Sierra Leonean refugees who fled to Monrovia more than a week ago and are now living on the streets of the capital.

"We have got also more Sierra Leone refugees arriving from VOA camp outside Monrovia telling of violence, looting, rape, and other abuses," he said. "Apparently, the Liberian government has sent some police forces there and 15 looters died in a clash with them."

The VOA camp is named after Voice of America because it has transmitting facilities near the camp.

Mr. Janowski says during the past week, the UNHCR has not been able to access any of its four camps in the Monrovia area because of the recent fighting. But he believes that many of the refugees, because of the poor conditions, have fled the camps and ventured into Monrovia. But he adds that the fate of many other refugees is unknown.