Renewed Fighting Threatens Liberians

Monrovia, August 20, 2003 - Fighting in Bong County, northeast of Monrovia, is threatening the safety of 60,000 displaced Liberians living in the Maimu, Totota, and Salala camps just 45 kilometers from the frontline.

"Displaced Liberians in Bong county have already been forced to flee as many as four times in the past two years alone, and now, when their health situation is especially dire, their safety is under threat again," says Pierre Mendiharat, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) head of mission in Liberia.

There has been no general food distribution in these camps since mid-May and people are surviving on cassava foraged in the surrounding bush. MSF opened a therapeutic feeding center in Salala camp on August 2 and is now treating 150 children and admitting 5-10 new severely malnourished children daily. In addition, MSF has carried out two food distributions to more than 4,000 children. A cholera outbreak has also hit the camps. MSF opened a cholera treatment unit in Salala and has treated over 150 patients in the past two weeks.

"The frontline is now no more than 45 kilometers from the camps in Bong," says Pierre Mendiharat. "If the fighting gets closer, we fear a mass displacement of civilians."

In the past week, MSF teams have carried out four assessment trips to Tubmanburg in Bomi county, Bo Waterside in Grand Cape Mount county, Zwedru in Grand Gedeh county, and Buchanan in Grand Bassa county - all areas of Liberia that have been cut off from humanitarian aid for months and have virtually no access to medical care or sufficient food or water. Today, MSF should begin a mobile clinic in Tubmanburg, where there are an estimated 14,000 people. In Buchanan, an estimated 30,000 displaced people are in need of urgent medical and nutritional assistance, but the security situation remains too precarious to permit assistance operations on a large scale.

Currently, 23 MSF international staff, 300 Liberian staff, and nearly 600 MSF-supported public health workers are running 2 field hospitals, 9 health clinics, and 3 cholera treatment units in Monrovia city, as well as immunizing 2-400 displaced children per day against measles and trucking 100,000 liters of water each day to displaced centers in the city. MSF also runs medical and water/sanitation programs in 3 camps in Bong county and has reopened a health clinic in Plumcor camp for the displaced in Montserrado county north of Monrovia.