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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August, 2003, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Liberia: Nation starving
Refugee Kainnah Flomo
Without food, Liberians cannot enjoy peace
The true extent of the humanitarian crisis in Liberia is only starting to emerge as aid agencies and journalists start to travel outside the capital, Monrovia.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead says there are some 50,000 displaced people in Bong County, 100km north-east of the capital.

Some 15,000 are in Salala Camp, which has not received any food aid since April and where there is not enough water to go round.

It is full of severely malnourished children who are being treated by Medecins Sans Frontieres.

We will not be able to enjoy [food] unless we are free from harassment from the rebels and (government) militias
Gaius Tabla
Displaced teacher
Some are grotesquely swollen, others are pencil-thin.

Our correspondent says it is clear that there is a humanitarian disaster across the whole of Liberia.

Aid workers are also struggling to cope with diarrhoea, chest infections, malaria, and an outbreak of cholera.

Food fears

Donweh Bar, 48, is one of thousands of people living in the abandoned University of Liberia campaus in Fendell, 14km from Monrovia.

Malnourished child in Monrovia

She told the AP news agency that she could not remember when she last ate any food - even wild leaves and tubers.

"Two days," she said weakly. "No, maybe two weeks."

These people have not yet felt the benefits of the power-sharing agreement signed between rebels and the government on Monday.

"We are hungry. We want food," said Saylee Jarbateh, a 52-year-old mother of five who fled when the fighting first reached in June.

"Without food, how can we have peace? How can we go home?"

Despite the deal, Nigerian and US peacekeepers have not yet ventured outside Monrovia and some refugees fear that giving them food would make them a target for attack by the thousands of armed young men who roam the country.

"To bring food to a hungry man is a fine thing. But we will not be able to enjoy it unless we are free from harassment from the rebels and (government) militias," Gaius Tabla, a teacher in Gbartala village, 150km east of Monrovia, told AP.

'Place to place'

Some of those in Salala camp have fled from one refugee camp to another as the front-line advanced towards Monrovia over the past four years.

"We go somewhere, they attack and we run away. We always run from place to place," said one refugee, Victoria.

Civilians walk past a peacekeeping vehicle
There are not enough peacekeepers for the whole country
"Everybody here is hungry. Even myself am sitting here and I am hungry," said Hawa Perkins, 46, who helps MSF doctors at a tent which serves as the camp's ante-natal ward.

"It's been a bad year. Nobody has been able to plant their crops because of all this fighting," she told the AFP news agency.

Yuktar Farah, an official with the UN agency coordinating the international relief effort, said Liberia's food crisis was one of the world's worst in the past decade - more severe than other humanitarian disasters he had witnessed in Rwanda, Angola and Eritrea.

"Over half a million people have no access to (clean) water, no access to food," he said.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Ingham
"Thousands of people are still without homes"



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