Global perspective Human stories

Humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone shows signs of improvement: UN official

Humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone shows signs of improvement: UN official

The humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone appears to be improving, in contrast to neighbouring Guinea and Liberia where there are signs of deterioration, a top United Nations relief official said today in New York.

Carolyn McAskie, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who recently returned from the region, told a press conference at UN Headquarters that "with the apparent weakening of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and with the considerably more robust presence of UNAMSIL [the UN mission in Sierra Leone], there is a sense that a solution is on the way in Sierra Leone."

She stressed, however, that it was premature to predict whether the trend would hold, noting that Sierra Leone was a very poor country and that there had been great difficulty in raising funds for the area.

Against the background of some positive signs in Sierra Leone, the humanitarian crisis in Guinea and Liberia was worsening, Ms. McAskie said. In Guinea, the past few years had witnessed ongoing concerns about how to help the Government support hundreds of thousands refugees from Sierra Leone. To complicate matters, the country now had 300,000 internally displaced persons of its own because of the fighting along the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone, she noted.

In Liberia, rebel factions in the north of the country seemed to have joined forces against the authorities, Ms. McAskie said. As a result, Liberian President Charles Taylor was mobilizing the old territorial forces, which had been demobilized in 1997 and 1998, effectively creating a humanitarian crisis in the country. Potentially, there could be 60,000 internally displaced persons in Liberia alone, she pointed out.

Describing it as "not a happy state at all," Ms. McAskie said that in addition to the half-million refugees in the region, the number of internally displaced persons could reach three quarters of a million.