Starving to death in Monrovia's suburbs

Jun 17, 2003 10:15 AM EDT

Here and there, the signs that these homes were abandoned quickly: doors standing open, washing still hanging on a line, a child's shoes lying where they last were taken off.

These were the homes to refugees from other wars. There were around 60,000 people altogether, living in what amount to temporary towns just outside the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

Now those refugees have run for their lives again. Brewerville camp is abandoned.

Where there would normally be the sound of tens of thousand of people going about their daily lives, of children playing excitedly, there is only the sound of birds singing. Other than that there's silence here.

Ten-year old Annie went missing when the shooting started here, as the attack on Monrovia began. She hasn't been seen since.

"It's my daughter I'm looking for. She's ten years old." says Tewa,

"She was going to school here, when the shooting happened she didn't come home, she just disappeared. I've been looking for her, but I haven't seen her since."

A short distance away, in an abandoned warehouse, hundreds of Liberians are living in appalling conditions. The building is dark and dingy, the floor's covered in puddles from the torrential downpours of the rainy season.

They've had no food supplies for weeks, it was too dangerous to deliver here long before the attack on the capital. Most aid workers were airlifted to safety last week, it was too dangerous for them to stay.

A mother presents her daughter to show the ribs which are protruding now. The people assume I am from an aid agency, they're pleading for help.

"My children they are dying, yesterday two died, I buried them yesterday. No food here. No medicine. No water." says a woman in the crowd that has gathered around me. "No food has come fore weeks. Nine children and no food for them." says another.

They've been gathering what they can from the bush around us. On small fires some are cooking the leaves from wild Cassava plants.

Nine year old Marie holds a bowl of grubs which will be her meal.

The Palm Worms from the palm trees nearby writhe in the bottom of her plastic bowl, yellow with red heads, more than a centimetre long, fat and wriggling.

A child cries weakly nearby.

The current war has been going on for three years, this country has been in one conflict or another for almost a decade and a half. At the best of times things are not easy here.

The fighting has turned this country into the poorest in the world, so poor that the United Nations doesn't even include it on the list which compare levels of development from one country to another.

About 15 kilometres away in the centre of Monrovia there are the beginnings of a return to what amounts to normal life here.

Roadside stalls have begun trading again and a few shops have re-opened; but most people are still nervous that the rebels may come again.

They're also scared of the looting which the government forces are doing now.

A lot of those fighting for the government are militia, without uniform and rarely paid. They fund their fight themselves, taking what they want.

The European Union's aid programme, the only source of drinking water for the capital, has lost a lot of equipment and vehicles since the fighting ended.

No matter what the peace talks in Ghana hold, this country is a long way from peace.

By sarah park
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