Liberia suffering continues

Posted: 6 October 2003

Continuing fighting in Liberia is worsening an already severe humanitarian crisis that has pushed maternal and infant mortality to levels not seen for decades, a UN agency warns.

In recent weeks, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided emergency obstetric equipment, drugs and medical supplies to hospitals and clinics in and around Monrovia, many of which were looted during heavy fighting earlier this year.

However, the number of women dying as a result of treatable complications of pregnancy remains alarmingly high, and more funds are urgently needed to expand services, said Deji Popoola, UNFPA's Representative for Liberia. "We are only now regaining access to populations that have been denied all basic health services for years."

UNFPA is particularly concerned about the spread of HIV/AIDS due to widespread rape by marauding fighters, lack of safe blood supply for transfusions, and the instability and chaos caused by years of massive population movements-both within Liberia, and to and from neighbouring countries with high HIV prevalence rates.

Displaced persons

After 14 years of civil war, Liberia has been at relative peace since the departure of former President Charles Taylor into exile and the recent signing of a ceasefire between rebel groups and the Government.

But, continued fighting and insecurity outside Monrovia, ongoing human rights abuses including sexual assaults, and conflicts in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire continue to fuel a steady influx of internally displaced persons into the overwhelmed capital and to force other Liberians to flee back and forth across borders.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are now more than 450,000 displaced persons in Monrovia, and 315,000 Liberian refugees in other countries in West Africa.

Funds needed

In the past three weeks, fighting in the central provinces of Bong and Nimba has driven more than 6,000 Liberians into Guinea. UNFPA and UNHCR are working together to provide emergency reproductive health supplies and services to these refugees.

UNFPA is also training health workers and midwives working with Liberian refugees in Guinea and Sierra Leone, and overseeing the local production of hygiene kits (including sanitary napkins, clean towels and soap) for displaced Liberian women and girls.

The Fund launched a US$1.9 million appeal to donors in August to cover the immediate cost of critical interventions in safe motherhood, HIV prevention, psychosocial counselling and adolescent reproductive health.