June 14, 2003

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is one of the few aid agencies still working in Liberia. Tom Quinn, a nurse who works for MSF, is writing a diary for BBC News Online.

25 June 2003

It's happening again only this time it's far worse.

The fighting is approaching central Monrovia again and we are now trapped in the compound, doing our best to deal with the steady stream of war-wounded coming through our doors. Yesterday morning we drove as usual to the camps.

We heard bombing and shelling several kilometers to the north but that's not too unusual and we weren't too alarmed.

Then we noticed that the government troops had retreated behind us, and with the rebels to the north that meant we were trapped in the middle.

We decided to leave immediately taking the back roads.

Hospital evacuated

From there it continued. There was small arms fire around us.

We evacuated the patients from Redemption Hospital and brought some of them back to the compound. And everywhere we went we saw people on the move; tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting. Back in the compound we, and a small number of national staff who are staying with us, have been desperately trying to reinforce our facilities.

Cholera epidemic

Last night we heard rockets and shelling in Monrovia's center just one or two kilometers away and we have a steady stream of war-wounded coming in to our small in-patient facility that we set up during the last bout of fighting.

We need to be able to do light surgery to treat these patients.

Redemption Hospital has been evacuated and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] surgery unit is on the other side of town - far too dangerous for anyone to cross town right now - so we're going to have to be able to operate on them here.

And in the middle of this nightmare we have a cholera epidemic.

Yesterday we had 111 admissions to our cholera unit and now we can't reach it because of fighting. What is going to happen to all those people?

And the thousands more still living in stadiums and schools, soon to be descended upon by the tens of thousand more.

Monrovia, 19 June, 1600 Liberia time/GMT

Everywhere we go in the camps people keep rushing up to us, begging for food.

My ears are ringing with cries for help. Our feeding center is overflowing.

Our camp supervisor Willy and I walked around the camp, talking to the people and these are some of the stories we heard:

Nelly, not her real name, is from Bomi, in the North. Six of her children have died and her husband was killed by the fighting in 1990.

Food ration

Since then she has been struggling to keep her remaining four children alive. She has only received one food ration this year, which ran out long ago.

Now she relies on breaking and selling firewood to feed her family, but no one here has the money to buy it. She is hungry and her children are hungry. Clara, also not her real name, is just 18 years old and also from Bomi.

She left a year ago with her husband, baby, brothers and parents, but was separated from her husband when the fighting reached this camp a few weeks ago, and hasn't been able to find him since.

Armed groups

Every day she walks five hours to cross the river to work as a laborer in the fields, then five hours back again in the evening. She is paid in cassava root, but has to hand some over for the river crossing.

Often, she is forced to give up her food to armed groups. She is hungry and her children are hungry.

Sophie, again I have changed her name, is 32 from Lofa county. She fled the civil war in the region last year along with her four children and family.

But now it has followed her here and one of her brothers is dead caught in the cross-fire of the recent fighting.

She too sells wood to buy food. She too is hungry and her children are starving.

Mobile clinics

It goes on and on.

These people once had homes and full bellies.

Tomorrow morning we will reopen Redemption Hospital and another organization, ACF, is now also running some feeding centers so we're referring patients to them as well.

We have mobile clinics running in the camps at Bong as well as three camps here and the various clinics around central Monrovia, and we have more medical staff and 15 tons of supplies coming in from Sierra Leone tomorrow.

We'll continue to do what we can and it counts. But there is no getting away from these sad stories.