Desperate Situation in Liberian Capital

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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Monrovia/New York, 9 June 2003 - As virtually all international embassy, business, and non-governmental agency staff evacuate Monrovia, Liberians find themselves in an increasingly desperate situation in the capital, Monrovia, according to the independent medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Fighting continues for the fourth consecutive day, and there is no functioning water supply, hospitals have no electricity or other source of energy, and Monrovians are now fleeing their homes to find safety elsewhere.

MSF evacuated some staff, but a medical emergency team of three will remain for as long as security allows. Together with MSF's Liberian staff, the head of mission, doctor and nurse will continue bringing urgently needed supplies to the clinics and hospitals that the organization supports. They will also try to locate major concentrations of displaced people and see what assistance is needed.

"Over the past months, we performed an average of 2,500 consultations each week in the hospitals and clinics," says Christopher Stokes, MSF's operational director in Brussels. "We now hear from our Liberian staff that only a fraction of that number reaches the health facilities. The extreme insecurity in the city apparently makes it impossible for many civilians to seek the medical attention they need."

Supplying hospitals is the number one priority for the MSF team, particularly because people are expected to arrive in need of treatment as soon as security improves. But efforts yesterday were only partly successful - the MSF team managed to get some supplies to a number of its clinics. The hospitals remained off-limits because of the chaos and violence in the streets of Monrovia.

Over the past days, Redemption Hospital has received casualties from the fighting, and the staff has been able to treat them. Redemption, where MSF has been working for many years, is the only major public hospital in Monrovia. But medical stocks will run low and there is no water or electricity. Island Hospital, which is also supported by MSF, was looted on Saturday.

Tonight a cargo plane with MSF supplies left Belgium and will arrive in Freetown, Sierra Leone tomorrow. The 70 cubic meters of cargo - 18 tons - contains food, a range of medical supplies, and materials for providing safe water and sanitation.

"We also need to know more about the displaced in the city," adds Christopher Stokes. "Tens of thousands who have been streaming into the city since Thursday had already been on the run for a long time and staying in often makeshift camps outside Monrovia. They may have hoped to find better conditions in the city, but they won't. We need to find them, see how they are doing, help them find shelter against the incessant rains, get them food, clean water, medical care. This is going to be an uphill struggle, particularly because hardly any aid organizations remain."

MSF calls on the warring parties to safeguard the security of civilians, allow aid workers safe access to those who need assistance, and allow urgent supplies, particularly water and fuel, to reach the hospitals and clinics.