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UN Begins Moving Thousands of Homeless Liberians to Camps - 2003-09-14

The United Nations has begun moving thousands of homeless people out of Liberia's overcrowded capital, Monrovia, to camps on the outskirts of the city.

At least 300,000 people from rural areas flooded into Monrovia in June, seeking refuge from fighting between government troops and rebels. Tens of thousands of them are crammed into small buildings such as schools and clinics.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, Delphine Marie, describes the conditions under which these people are living as miserable.

"There is no proper hygiene structures, not enough latrines in those places," she said. "There is development of various diseases. There has been a wide cholera epidemic in Monrovia. That is also due to the unavailability of potable water and of sufficient hygiene structures."

Ms. Marie says these homeless people will be much better off, once they are moved to the camps outside Monrovia. She says it will be much easier for humanitarian agencies to organize the distribution of goods in these designated areas.

Because it has been so difficult to provide assistance to displaced people in Monrovia, many have gone hungry and the sick have gone unattended. But Ms. Marie says most basic services will be provided in the camps and life for the displaced should be improved.

"That they have enough latrines, that there is water, there is a clinic or health services available to them in the camps," added Ms. Marie. "We will also provide some new shelter equipment where it is needed, and we will resume distribution of blankets, mats, buckets, jerry cans, other items as well as food distribution by the World Food Program in these areas."

Ms. Marie says her agency has worked very closely with the West African peacekeepers to improve the security in and around the camps. She says patrols are taking place three times a day among the different camps, and checkpoints are set up in several locations.

The United Nations hopes to move 30,000 displaced people now living in 56 schools in Monrovia into the camps by October 20. That will free up the classrooms for the start of the school year.