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Liberia's capital 'calm,' but supplies dwindle

Liberia's capital 'calm,' but thousands need help as supplies dwindle - UN

While Monrovia's relative calm has allowed the United Nations and other relief agencies to step up operations in and around the beleaguered Liberian capital, the humanitarian situation in the West African country remains critical as aid workers stretch dwindling stocks of food, water and medicines to help meet the needs of thousands of displaced civilians.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), though a relative calm has prevailed for roughly one week, relief agencies are still confronted with great humanitarian needs in and around Monrovia. Many of the city's internally displaced persons (IDPs) face shortages of basic services, and abuses against civilians, especially those living on the capital's outskirts, are reported regularly.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), together with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Liberian officials, carried out preliminary assessments and began to distribute food to some of the more than 180,000 Monrovians in need of food aid. But food insecurity remains critical. Amid reports of increasing malnutrition among children under five both in the camps and host communities, IDPs fear to venture into the villages to look for cassava or any other commodities. Many are now begging or selling their few valuable possessions to buy food.

On the health front, sustained humanitarian efforts have brought down the number of cases of cholera among the more than 30,000 IDPs that have been sheltering for weeks now at the National Sports Stadium. Contaminated water, however, still poses a health risk to most Monrovians, OCHA said. Agencies have identified 13 sites critically in need of water and sanitation services but hampered by shortages of water tankers, water bladders and jerry cans. At some camps, private companies are charging IDPs 10 Liberian dollars for five gallons of water. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the total number of cholera cases in Monrovia is now 1,630, including 15 deaths.

Humanitarian agencies are also facing serious shortages of supplies and services. Though the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is providing some ambulance services, they are not sufficient to meet the demand for transporting IDPs from their camps to referral hospitals. Due in part to looting, hospitals lack food, water, stretchers, sheets, and beds. Health centres report that there is not a sufficient amount of blood available for transfusions, nor are there enough kits available for screening that blood for HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, UNHCR reported that its rescue ship, MV Overbeck, has so far ferried home to Freetown more than 950 Sierra Leonean refugees since an emergency evacuation operation by sea kicked off on 4 July. The returnees reported that many more refugees desperately want to go home in the face of declining security in the camps in and around Monrovia. They also said that their already difficult situation in Liberia worsened after the Special Court for Sierra Leone announced the indictment against Liberian President Charles Taylor, who subsequently made public statements against Sierra Leoneans in Liberia.

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