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LIBERIA: Crumbling camps a health hazard for lingering residents
8/11/2006 10:06 AM

The vast camps for displaced Liberians that circle the capital city Monrovia officially closed in April, but some 13,000 people live on there even as the shelters collapse around them.

“Look at my hut, it is almost falling,” said Joseph Kanneh who lives on the muddy remains of what was one the biggest camps, Wilson Corner, for internally displaced people (IDPs) on the outskirts of Monrovia.

“Each time it rains at night I can not sleep, I have to be awake or move to another friend’s shelter,” he said.

It’s the rainy season in Monrovia, one of the wettest capitals in the world, receiving up to 4,000 mm of rain between April and October. The families living in the collapsing temporary shelters built before war ended in 2003 say they want to go home to their villages, but couldn’t due to administrative blunders.

“We want to return home,” said Ma-Hawa Massaley, a mother of seven living at Jah Tondo camp for IDPs, “but since the government came out on the radio and they closed down the camps, we see no sign of going back home.”

Massaley says that she missed out on a resettlement programme because her name was not on the food distribution list. Ration cards issued by the United Nation’s World Food Programme were used as identification for entitlement to assistance by one of the agencies that trucked over 300,000 IDPs since guns fell silent.

Louis Imbleau, the head of the UN World Food Programme in Liberia said a process has commenced to verify the list of those former IDPs that had been left out of camp ration list.

“We are in the process of identifying those left of the feeding list and we have been working closely with the [the UN’s Refugee agency] UNHCR on this issue and some sort of agreement will be reached to finalise it soon,” Imbleau told IRIN, though declined to provide reasons why some IDPs were not on the feeding roster.

However, some of the IDPs themselves blamed camp managers and their IDP representatives.

“Those camps management committees and some of our IDP leaders let our names out of the lists. They kept delaying and assuring us that we would be added on to the lists, but this went on until the camps were closed,” Stephen Musa who used to be an IDP representative, working as an intermediary between aid workers and the camp residents.

When the camps officially closed, the food and social services support that the IDPs had been receiving was cut. UN and other aid agencies moved on and some of the families left in their wake say they get odd jobs to get by, other complain of being forced to beg.

“There is no NGO at all in this camp. There is no clinic here at all and when any of us gets sick, we are constrained to beg someone in the street for help to afford our medical bills,” said Musa.

Last week the IDP Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council said the poor state of the camps were a health hazard for the people still living there.

“Remaining shelters are in a state of collapse, water and sanitation facilities are severely lacking and respiratory illnesses in particular are rife,” the report said.

Liberia’s Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, which is coordinating the return of hundreds of thousands of IDPs and refugees, on Wednesday told IRIN that they planned to help the remaining IDPs home within the coming weeks.

“We have been discussing with our various partners and putting together the process where those IDPs who are the residual cases be returned home in a similar manner as those in the organised resettlement programme,” said LRRRC’s Saar Nyumah.

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

Published in: LIBERIA: Crumbling camps a health hazard for lingering residents, IRINNews, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, August 10, 2006. © IRIN.