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UN team finds northern Liberian city 'broken'

UN team finds northern Liberian city 'broken' and in need of help

A United Nations interagency team undertaking the first assessment trip in four years to the northern Liberian city of Voinjama found it "broken" by 14 years of civil war, and in need of assistance.

In a dispatch from the capital Monrovia today, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that representatives from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), and OCHA had completed a "rapid assessment" of the city, near the Guinea border, which had recently been under the control of the rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

"Fourteen years of civil war have left Voinjama broken and in need of assistance," said Dr. Omar Khatib, Head of the WHO office in Liberia. "The city has little infrastructure to speak of and civilians are forced to scavenge for food in the bush."

Dr. Khatib delivered two medical kits to the clinic in Voinjama, as part of a programme of longer term United Nations engagement in the city, according to the OCHA statement.

"This rapid assessment represents the critical first step in ensuring a sustained UN engagement in Voinjama and Lofa County," said UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Abou Moussa.

According to OCHA, the mission found a mostly deserted city with many injured during fighting awaiting treatment in the city's only clinic, which receives an overwhelming 100 patients each day and is in bad need of repair, medicine and basic supplies. All houses were in a state of disrepair - with less than 10 per cent of the structures in a habitable condition. Schools are barely functioning, though a small group of teachers continue to work free of charge to provide what little education is possible in a community with almost no remaining infrastructure.

Immediate needs include drugs, vaccines, rice seed and agricultural tools, shelter, construction and educational materials."

OCHA said LURD's high command reiterated a previous guarantee for safe humanitarian access to Voinjama. The United Nations will conduct a follow up mission in the near future - a further step towards establishing a permanent United Nations presence there, the Office said.

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