21 July 2003


Press Release


NEW YORK, 21 July (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) -- In Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, mortars and shells continued to pound the city over the weekend.  JFK Hospital in the capital is overwhelmed by the recent influx of wounded soldiers and civilians, and medical facilities confront shortages of everything, including water and basic medical supplies.  City stores and shops are all closed, including the main local markets of Duala and Riverside, which are now deserted.  "The situation is becoming desperate", said Mohammad Siryon, a national Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) staff member in Monrovia.

Over the weekend, thousands of people streamed through the streets of a neighbourhood housing diplomatic compounds seeking shelter behind their gates.  The U.S. diplomatic residential compound at Greystone is already crammed with over 10,000 displaced persons from two recent rounds of fighting.  Hundreds of residents from Brewerville, Banjor and the St. Paul Bridge moved again with their luggage and returned to a number of already overcrowded displaced centres in the city suburbs, including D-Tweh and Boastwien High Schools.  Today, more people were moving in the direction of Greystone, seeking safety.

Displaced persons fleeing the fighting in Brewerville have reported that the camps of Blamese, Wilson and VOA have been attacked, with some shells landing in the camps.  Heavy smoke could be seen coming from the camps.  Residents of Duala, Logan town and Gardnersville areas are also moving into the city.

In addition, all United Nations compounds in Monrovia are housing displaced persons, including the compound of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Monrovia, where some 800 displaced persons have sought safety.

As of last week, there were an estimated 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) scattered in 92 temporary shelters in the city.  An estimated 50,000 IDPs remained in the old camps of Brewerville (Blamese, Plumkor, Seigbeh).  In Bong County, there were 56,000 internally displaced persons in Totota and 35,000 in Salala.  In Margibi County, there were 6,800 IDPs in Kakata camp, and in Grand Bassa County, there were an estimated 11,000 internally displaced persons in Buchanan.  At this point, however, the total number of displaced persons is unclear.

In addition to IDPs there are 14,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Monrovia and in refugee camps in the Brewerville area.  The humanitarian community has no access to an estimated 20,000 Sierra Leone refugees scattered in Cape Mount and Lofa counties.  There are approximately 20,000 Ivorian refugees and third country nationals in Grand Gedeh, Nimba and Maryland counties, who are also trapped in the fighting in eastern Liberia.  There is no information on their condition or exact whereabouts.

Internally displaced persons and refugees in Monrovia are living in overcrowded shelters with poor water supply and sanitation, which has lead to the outbreak of diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.  The current rate of cholera is 350 cases per week, compared to about 30 cases per week at the same period last year.  Due mainly to poor sanitation, cholera cases are reported to be on the increase, despite efforts by humanitarian agencies to control the spread of the disease.  In addition, malnutrition is on the increase, putting more children and women at high risk.

Providing humanitarian assistance is increasingly difficult under the circumstances.  Food and water are running low at overcrowded displaced centres, including United Nations compounds.  City residents are reported to have remained indoors, including some staff of the United Nations and aid agencies.  There is fear of looting, armed robbery, harassment and car hijacking by militias in the city, and a number of aid agencies have ceased movements.

Over the weekend, United Nations international staff assessing security conditions, in order to secure the return of international staff to Liberia, were evacuated to Freetown, Sierra Leone.  The United Nations security assessment team in Liberia last week visited a number of centres for displaced persons in Monrovia and held discussions with government officials, diplomatic missions, non-governmental organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  Earlier this month, a previous United Nations assessment team in Monrovia also had to evacuate when fighting intensified in the capital.

For further information, please call Stephanie Bunker, OCHA New York, tel.: (917) 367-5126; Rosemary Musumba, OCHA Liberia (in Abidjan) tel.: (225) 20 31 74 02.

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For information media. Not an official record.