Chaos Consumes Monrovia; Humanitarian Situation is Dire
(Photo: Kate Holt for IRC)
"Monrovia is in absolute chaos and Liberians are gripped by fear," says Wubeshet Woldemariam, who oversees IRC programs in Liberia. "Tens of thousands of people are fleeing in all directions and casualties are mounting."
The IRC was forced to suspend emergency health services and the distribution of critical supplies for the displaced, as constant shelling and explosions in the war-ravaged city made humanitarian deliveries impossible. Prior to this week's escalation of fighting, the IRC was operating mobile health clinics and distributing emergency materials at six sites where uprooted Liberians had settled.
"Many of our staff members have had to flee themselves, joining masses of Liberians seeking shelter anywhere they can find cover," Woldemariam said.
On Sunday, the IRC's office in Monrovia was raided by an armed group. "They wiped us out of everything, but thankfully several staff members and their families who were there at the time were not harmed," Woldemariam added.
The situation is dire. Reports indicate that hundreds of people have been killed and thousands of people wounded in a few short days. Those with injuries have next to no access to treatment. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people huddle in stadiums, abandoned buildings and other makeshift sites without adequate food, water, sanitation and health services.
The rest of the country is also suffering. More than 70 percent of Liberia is cut-off from humanitarian assistance. Up until now, injured, hungry and terrified civilians had been fleeing to Monrovia for humanitarian aid.
In testimony July 9 before the U.S. House Committee on International Relations, the IRC's West Africa regional director Robert Warwick called for the immediate deployment of an international stabilization force for Liberia.
"The security paradigm must change now to avoid an all out humanitarian crisis in Liberia with the potential to spill over into western Cote d'Ivoire, southern Guinea and the border regions of Sierra Leone," Warwick said.
He warned that "time is running out" for tens of thousands of Liberian civilians being denied access to aid.