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Aid Workers Warn of Humanitarian Disaster in Monrovia - 2003-07-24

Poor sanitary conditions and shortages of food and water have prompted aid workers to warn of an impending humanitarian disaster in the Liberian capital Monrovia. Fighting between rebel insurgents and government forces is continuing in the city, although the rebels say they are trying to establish a cease-fire. As the violence eased somewhat Thursday, attention turned to the scale of the humanitarian crisis faced by aid workers.

About 250,000 displaced civilians have crowded into Monrovia in recent weeks to escape fighting between rebels and government forces. Many of them have no access to food or drinking water.

According to Alain Kassa, the director of the Monrovia office of the medical relief group Doctors Without Borders, supplying civilians with water is the biggest problem.

"The water supply in town is very difficult because the city is overcrowded and with all this movement of people and concentration of people in the buildings it is difficult to supply them with water," he said.

According to Mr. Kassa, now that the situation in Monrovia has eased a bit, people are out on the streets looking for water and food. But Mr. Kassa said the situation is still far from normal.

The United Nations Children's fund, UNICEF, has this week launched a joint appeal with regional body ECOWAS, calling for an immediate end to all fighting in Liberia.

According to UNICEF's Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Rima Salah, the situation is particularly bad for children. Ms. Salah says the children in Monrovia are suffering from the food and water shortages, while other children are being sent to the front lines of the conflict.

"We see so many children that we think it is a war of children," described Ms. Salah. "This is unacceptable that children are being involved and being used to make a war for adults. [Simpson] In what way are the children being brought into the war? [Salah] They are really fighting. If you see them they are part of the factions of the armies both on the rebel side and the government side."

UNICEF and other aid organizations will be working with a regional peacekeeping force to train its soldiers in child protection strategies ahead of their deployment in Liberia.

African leaders Wednesday promised a regional peacekeeping force would be sent to Liberia no later than August 5 to secure a cease-fire and establish a separation zone between the Liberian government troops and rebel fighters. U.S. officials are meeting with West African leaders Thursday to discuss how they can support that deployment.