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Liberia: UN agencies fear dwindling supplies cannot meet growing relief needs

Liberia: UN agencies fear dwindling supplies cannot meet growing relief needs

As the wave of violence that has rocked West Africa for months now sweeps through Liberia - displacing thousands of terrified families and stranding countless refugees in its wake - United Nations aid agencies today said they fear the supplies they have will not be enough to meet growing needs.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), widespread fighting in western, northern and eastern Liberia is cutting off those most in need from humanitarian aid. At the same time, that violence has sparked fresh waves of internal displacement and refugee movement, which aid agencies fear may outstrip their already dwindling supplies.

The UN is also seriously concerned over the security of humanitarian personnel. Many of the 200 humanitarian workers who lost contact with their respective offices during heavy fighting around the eastern town of Zwedru on 27 March, remain unaccounted for. The environment in the area has become so dangerous that many aid agencies have had to withdraw their workers.

Fighting in the eastern part of the country has placed civilians, including refugees fleeing conflict in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire at risk, OCHA said. An increasing number of Liberians are also being forced to flee within their own borders, many for the second or third time. Fighting near the northern town of Gbarnga has displaced more than 20,000 people, who then sought shelter in Ganta. When fighting spread to Ganta, some 15,000 of these new arrivals were forced to flee again, along with some 30,000 residents of that town.

According to OCHA, thousands of these people have now fled into neighbouring Guinea. In addition, a recent attack by Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels at a centre for internally displaced persons (IDP) close to Monrovia drove some 25,000 people out of their temporary shelter.

Poor security, and the resulting fluid movements of vulnerable populations it causes, also leaves humanitarian workers unable to reach people in need in the most affected areas. Emergency interventions have become more difficult, and planned health care initiatives like vaccinations against measles have been postponed. Where access is possible - mainly near Monrovia - humanitarian agencies are running low on supplies. Shortages have also prompted the World Food Programme (WFP) to reduce its April and May food rations.

Aid agencies fear supply shortfalls will soon become worse because programmes for food, shelter, emergency health, and human rights protection have not received any contributions. Donors have so far provided just 2 per cent of the $42.6 million in funding required under the 2003 UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Liberia. UN humanitarian agencies in Liberia continue to urge donors to enable them to assist vulnerable Liberians by funding the Appeal.