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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
Diary of a Liberian aid worker V
Tom Quinn
Tom Quinn who works for MSF in Liberia
Medecins Sans Frontieres is one of the few aid agencies working in Liberia.

Tom Quinn, who works for MSF, is writing a diary for BBC News Online.

1700 GMT, 13 August

This morning we went across the river again into the areas that have been under Lurd rebel control.

It is incredible over there on Bushrod Island. A different world than here on Mamba Point, where everybody is stressed about getting their next meal.

Across the river there is food everywhere. And the reason of course is that it has been looted from the big World Food Programme warehouse stocks.

Are they still staying at home thinking that the clinics are not working?

There are people walking around with great big 50 kg sacks of rice or tins of oil on their heads.

The Lurd soldiers emptied the warehouse and passed the food around. Not what you would recommend as a proper distribution programme but at least it has meant that the "liberated" stuff is spreading out to a degree. The markets are running full pelt.

Uncertainty

Not that the people there are any more cheerful really. Everybody, on both sides of the lines, is pretty anxious about what is still to come for the country.

The other thing that is extraordinary is the damage to all the buildings. There is hardly a square metre without a bullet hole.

And on the other side there, the water supply is even more of a problem. The chlorination system that used to help a bit is no longer working. So there is a major risk of stomach problems and worse.

The reason we went is to work out what has happened to all the people we were trying to give medical care to.

Well, a lot of them have melted away. There are still people in the camps but not nearly as many.

We split off into two search parties. One went north towards Tubmanberg. They tell me there were certainly people who went that way from the camps in the city.

Some of them were "encouraged" by the Lurd soldiers to get out of the camps and go back towards their original homes in the North.

I went off on another route towards the Sierra Leone border to the West. And in fact met up with another MSF team who had come across that border to see what could be done from their side. What we found was not that surprising.

Restoring the clinics

These people have had no proper medical care or facilities for years. They have got all the problems you would expect from that. Terrible neglected diseases and chronic complaints.

In some places where the looted food has not reached or with people who are too poor to buy what is around, there are signs of malnutrition.

Our staff at the Segbe Camp are certainly saying that. But we are still not seeing the numbers of cholera cases that we might have expected. Are they still staying at home thinking that the clinics are not working?

We're determined to get them back to full strength as soon as we can. It depends a lot on whether we can keep negotiating access across the river. We were able to take some medical supplies but we need to get more staff there.

In fact, the remarkable thing is that our Liberian staff who stayed in the Lurd areas have kept working. They are brilliant. So committed to their own people.

There is one of the guards at the Redemption Hospital who just symbolises the spirit. He has stayed put through all of the fighting. You arrive back and he gives you a huge grin and a hug - as if nothing had happened in between.




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