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Great Lakes
Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Liberian disaster looms
A father carries his dead daughter over his shoulder
Hundreds of people have been killed in five days of fighting
As rebel attacks on the Liberian capital Monrovia intensify, aid workers are increasingly worried by the humanitarian situation, warning of a possible "doomsday scenario".

An estimated 150,000 people have fled to Monrovia from other parts of the country and desperately need food, water, shelter and medical supplies.

The main John F Kennedy Hospital is overwhelmed by hundreds of people in desperate need of medical attention.

They arrive in ambulances, pick-up trucks and even wheelbarrows, says the BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia.

He saw bodies lying in the hospital corridors.

A five-month-old baby was laying on a bed, with his back sliced open by shrapnel.

He wanted milk but his mother's chest was blown off, so she cannot give him any milk.

They took the car, so we couldn't get the woman to medical help and she died
Magnus Wolfe-Murray

"When the rocket landed, the next thing I saw was the body of my brother-in-law laying in a pool of blood and my baby on the other side screaming in pain," said the baby's father, 35-year-old police detective Parleh Chea.

"We don't know how we're going to cope," hospital director Mohammed Sheriff said. "We're short of manpower."

However, an official from the morgue said that there was enough electricity to keep the bodies cold.

Saving lives

With many of the city's water pumps damaged, children keep their heads low as they run with buckets to the few remaining water sources.

On Tuesday morning, Magnus Wolfe-Murray, of the UK-based charity Merlin, was going to collect 8,000 gallons from a well near the beach and take it to a camp where 60-80,000 people have been without water since Saturday.

Government fighter
It is difficult to distinguish rebels and government fighters

He said that some water trucks have been taken off the roads because of fears that they would be damaged by falling shells or stolen by fighters.

Despite the danger, he said that he was in Monrovia "for the duration".

"If we don't do it, no-one else will," he told BBC News Online.

And despite the difficulties, he said that he was part of a team which was still saving dozens of lives every day.

"Children with diarrhoea or cerebral malaria would die within a few hours without medical attention," he said.

Merlin can take care of relatively simple cases, while the aid agency Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) has a health clinic nearby, where they can perform caesarean sections.

"For more serious cases, such as gunshots wounds to the head, we have to send people to the John F Kennedy Hospital, which is a 15-minute drive through very dangerous ganglands," Mr Wolfe-Murray said.

Ambulance looted

The militias do try to respect ambulances, he said, but the aid workers do not have helmets or flak jackets and on Monday, a shell landed right next to an ambulance.

"During the second attack on Monrovia, in June, a brand new ambulance was taking a pregnant woman to a health centre, when it was stopped by a militia - you can never tell whether they're rebels or government loyalists," he said.

Click below to see a satellite image of Monrovia (Image: Digitalglobe)

"They took the car, so we couldn't get the woman to medical help and she died."

Aid workers are also grappling with an outbreak of cholera and Mr Wolfe-Murray said that they had been able to keep the number of cholera deaths to below 50, which he said was relatively low.

Oxfam worker Sam Nagbe says the fighting and shelling means it is too dangerous for him and his colleagues to get to work:

"We are not able to provide water and those services to people who usually depend on us."

"People here are really suffering, but as long as the fighting continues we are unable to help them," he said. "If peacekeepers do not come, there will be a doomsday scenario."

The BBC's Paul Welsh
"The battle for Monrovia is heavy and deadly"

In pictures: Monrovia's mortar attack
21 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery

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