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200,000 Liberians flee strife

More than 200,000 displaced people in Liberia need shelter and food as civil strife wracks the country.

BY DISASTER NEWS NETWORK | BALTIMORE | April 25, 2003


"There have been points in time when Liberia could have been considered flourishing in the context of west Africa."

—Donna Derr


More than 200,000 displaced people in Liberia need shelter and food as civil strife wracks the country.

A rebel force within Liberia captured the city of Gbarnga last month after fierce fighting. Gbarnga, a centrally located city and home to Cuttington University College and Phebe Hospital, is vital to Liberia's economy.

About 35,000 Gbarnga residents fled to the outlying communities of Totota and Ganta, both some 35 miles away. Another 7,000 Liberians fled to neighboring Guinea. In addition, the Liberian government is relocating some 200,000 displaced people after an attack near the Rick's Institute camp that housed them.

Church World Service (CWS) issued an emergency appeal to help meet growing needs in Liberia. CWS is working through Concerned Christian Community, which plans to provide immediate relief to 2,500 displaced people, and long-term relief to thousands more. CCC is giving priority to pregnant women, lactating mothers, the ill and the elderly. They will be provided with temporary shelter, food, blankets, cooking utensils and counseling services for three months.

Supplies were being airlifted this month.

CWS was also working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to develop peace-building initiatives, and with the YWCA to provide food and recreational programs for children.

Liberia has a history of civil strife. A fierce civil war wracked the country from 1989 through 1996, all but destroying much of its infrastructure. Since 1997, when the current government was elected, rebel factions have been waging war against the government.

Many in the U.S. remain unaware of the plight of people in Liberia, and CWS and other organizations have been trying to draw public attention to the needs there, said Donna Derr of CWS. "I think, by and large, many people in the U.S. are unaware of the situation in Liberia," she said. "It is not a country that has been of major historic interest to the U.S. and so has never been high on our radar screen."

The Iraq war has overshadowed many other international crises, and Liberia is no exception to that, added Derr. "When one turns on the news, all one sees of international concerns is Iraq and related Middle East concerns, and the SARS outbreak. I haven't seen anything in the last weeks about the many war-related atrocities recently occurring in Liberia or the huge food crisis in Ethiopia or even the continuing issues in Afghanistan."

But even in the face of public apathy, years of civil war and the current crisis, Derr expressed hope for Liberia's future. "There have been points in time when Liberia could have been considered flourishing in the context of west Africa," she said.


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