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Liberia - Recent ICRC activities - February to May 2002

24-05-2002 Operational Update No OP/REX 02/437Update No 12/2002

The highly volatile political and security situation in the country has continued to cause a serious deterioration in the ever-complex humanitarian crisis. The ICRC provides an emergency response for victims of the crisis in accessible areas, notably with shelter material, water and sanitation, mobile medical teams, medical evacuations and follows up protection issues.


TV Tower IDPs camp in Gbarnga area. ©ICRC 


Medical structures are often looted (here ICRC clinic at TV Tower camp).©ICRC


Fleeing the fighting


Finding shelter in the Ganta region.©ICRC


Conditions are critical.©ICRC

Executive Summary 

Since the last ICRC Update No 6/2002 – Liberia, dated 27 February 2002, the highly volatile political and security situation in the country has continued to cause a serious deterioration in the ever-complex humanitarian crisis. Fighting between government forces and dissidents has spread from Lofa and Gbarpoplu Counties to Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Margibi and Bong Counties, causing further population movements and a significant increase in the overall IDP caseload;

As lead agency for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC is coordinating the joint Red Cross response, working with Liberian National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) to assist the victims of the recent displacements and fighting in Liberia. The ICRC provides an emergency response for victims of the crisis in accessible areas, notably with shelter material, water and sanitation, mobile medical teams, medical evacuations and follows up protection issues. The ICRC has also been lobbying the authorities to ensure the proper mid-term relocation and settlement of displaced persons (IDPs) in safe locations;


Between March-May 2002 fighting continued to be reported in Lofa, Bomi, Bong and Grand Cape Mount counties. At the beginning of May, fighting in and around Gbalatuah/Belefanai and the main town of Gbargna in central Bong County marked the latest escalation in the conflict. 

Ahead of these attacks, the 30’000 IDPs staying in the five camps in the Gbarnga area, together with the town’s population (approx. 35,000 persons), fled southwards, southwestwards and northeastwards towards neighbouring Nimba County. Large numbers of people are reported to be still on the move. 

Elsewhere, on the Monrovia-Sierra Leone road axis in Bomi County, several skirmishes occurred up to Arthington, some 25km from Monrovia. These caused additional IDP movements towards Monrovia and further exacerbated tensions among the capital’s population. 

  Humanitarian consequences 

This new phase of the conflict has led to further population displacements as IDPs have been forced to move again and the overall caseload has increased. The current IDP population is estimated to be up to 80,000 persons. IDPs have been widely dispersed in different directions, stretching the response capabilities of humanitarian organisations.

In Bong County, the Belefanai camp populations (School camp and Market camp approx. 2,000 families), together with the Gbarnga resident population (approx. 7,000 families) , IDP populations at TV Tower, Cari camps (approx. 4,500 families) and local surrounding villages (500 families) fled the fighting and moved in four different directions:

· northeastwards towards Ganta in Nimba County. Approximately 3,000 families arrived and in turn caused a snowball effect whereby a number of Ganta residents left for Saniquellie and others carried on to Côte d’Ivoire;

· northwards over into the Youmou district of Guinea. The borders with Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire are open while the Guinean border remains officially closed;

· southwards towards Botota, Grand Bassa County and eventually Buchanan (approximately 4,000 families);

· towards Monrovia. Most of the 4,500 families from TV Tower, Cari I and II have moved in this direction. Increasing the sizes of the sites on roads to Monrovia (Totota, Kakata).

In Montserrado County, the current IDP populations staying in camps around Monrovia (approx. 20,000 persons) are not yet stable. There are still new arrivals following recent upheaval in Suen/Mecca, Artington and Gbah. In Grand Cape Mount County some 1,000 IDP families and 750 refugee families are staying at Sinje camp.

Most displaced persons are women and children, and their condition is deteriorating rapidly despite humanitarian assistance. IDPs are currently on the road during what is the difficult long rainy season (until November). Deteriorating health, poor nutritional condition, trauma, socio-economic dislocation and the breakdown of family and community coping mechanisms are some of the challenges faced by these communities. Some IDPs have been displaced up to five times in six months. Each time their coping mechanisms have been further destabilized and the mental and physical impact is considerable as they lose everything in their flight. There is a definite danger of creating assistance dependence for these vulnerable p eople. Numerous families have become separated because they suddenly had to leave the scene in a panic.

Fearful of possible attacks, civilians have been fleeing their homes in advance, hence avoiding being trapped in conflict zones. However, vacated areas are very often later looted. Even if the situation were to improve there is little to return back to. 

At the same time, Phebe Hospital, the only referral hospital for the Bong County and the surrounding IDP camps, had to close down and evacuate the inpatients to Totota and to the St Joseph Catholic hospital in Monrovia.

The further displacement and increase of IDPs is also a factor of tension in Liberian society. IDPs place a heavy burden on the coping mechanism of already impoverished host communities. This in turn leads to the registration of a considerable number of host communities’ members as IDPs in the established camps. Further displacement of populations is likely to have far reaching consequences on the survival economy of the already weakened rural communities throughout the country. 

The ICRC maintains a good working relationship with I/NGOs active in the country, notably with MSF (France, Switzerland, Belgium) and also UN actors (mainly WFP in charge of food distributions). Regular contact is maintained with the authorities to notify them of ICRC field movements for security purposes and to coordinate the humanitarian response.

The Red Cross Movement response  

As lead agency for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC is coordinating the joint Red Cross response, working with the LNRC S to assist the victims of the recent displacements and fighting in Liberia. It has stepped up its activities following the deterioration in the general situation to provide assistance and protection services. 

The International Federation closed its operation in Liberia in early July 2001, as a result of which the ICRC has taken on additional cooperation activities. The ICRC has focused on reinforcing the National Society’s capacity, especially in the chapters located in areas affected by or prone to conflict. In addition to its support to the LNRCS’s dissemination, tracing and emergency preparedness departments (health and water and sanitation), the ICRC has increasingly involved Red Cross volunteers and staff in its activities. Some 300 volunteers from local Liberian Red Cross branches are assisting directly in operations on behalf of IDPs, in particular with the construction of temporary shelters and latrines, the supply of drinking water, the distribution of non-food materials, help with the health posts, and tracing activities. 

Since the beginning of 2001, the ICRC and the National Society have been restricted to maintain a peripheral assistance approach to help IDPs who have fled the fighting zones.. 

The ICRC has been able to work in Totota, Kakata, Ganta and Buchanan and has mobilized Red Cross branches in areas potentially prone to conflict or in influx zones. ICRC teams are continuing their work outside of Monrovia and were moving to Gbarnga and Klay to assess the situation. Currently the team is looking to move back to its base in Gbarnga, but meanwhile has set up a base in Saniquellie to better cover the northern part of the country. The ICRC maintains contacts with the Liberian authorities in order to secure access to the dispersed IDPs. With recent changes, the ICRC team has been reinforced and there now is a team of 11 delegates based in Monrovia and some 50 national employees. 

  Current priorities are as follows:  

 Access to basic health care  

· ICRC/LNRCS mobile health teams    are active both outside (Ganta, Kakata and Sinje) and on the outskirts of Monrovia;

· Ambulance service for general evacuations of injured and sick people    (no differentiation between IDPs or residents). The ICRC has evacuated people to medical structures in Kakata, Totota and Monrovia for treatment;

· Adhoc medical assistance to referral structures in areas where there are IDPs and influxes of war-wounded (previous support was given to Phebe and Tubmanburg hospitals).

 Relief assistance     

· In the initial emergency phase the ICRC helps IDPS to secure basic community shelter . At a second stage, once the population has stablized the ICRC provides basic non-food items . At a further stage shelter material is provided for the construction of individual huts. In view of the number of IDPs and the ICRC’s lead role as non-food coordinator and provider among the humanitarian organisations in Liberia, the possibility of opening a second pipeline via Côte d'Ivoire to pre-position materials is being looked into;

0· The ICRC currently has an emergency stock of non-food items for 3,500 families (17,500 people) in Monrovia.

 Water and sanitation  

· High priority has been given to maximize the provision of fresh water for new IDPs. The ICRC is trucking water to sites where people are gathered, rehabilitating wells and pumps and setting up water distribution systems in coordination with other humanitarian actors;

· The ICRC is also looking to replace the lost material in the camps;

· ICRC/LNRCS hygiene teams to promote basic sanitation education in crowded areas;

· Latrines for IDPs in safe accessible sites.


· Visits to security detainees held in places of detention

· Restoring family links - the ICRC is reinforcing the tracing network through additional human resources to be able to respond to the increased need for tracing and reunifications (inside Liberia and in the sub-region) in collaboration with SCF. The Red Cross network has been mobilized to handle RCMs in LNRCS branches in IDP influx zones. The ICRC intends to become a focal agency for cross-border family reunifications;

· In view of the ongoing situation, the ICRC is monitoring protection issues (arrests, looting, civilians trapped in conflict zones, the recruitment of children etc.). 

· In addition, through its contacts with the armed forces, the ICRC continues its planned humanitarian law awareness sessions for Liberian armed forces troops (respect of non-combatants, behaviour of the troops). 

· The ICRC maintains regular contact with the authorities to remind them of their responsibilities, to lobby for the correct treatment of civilians (residents and displaced). It also tries to ensure that those displaced are correctly resettled in appropriate safe locations where they can receive adequate humanitarian assistance.

Activities May 2002  

In Ganta, the ICRC/LNRCS team has been digging emergency latrines, set up a mobile clinic with local LNRCS branch staff (4 persons) as well as a hygiene team (7 persons), and provides emergency water for up to 3,000 IDP families. Material (tarpaulins, water and sanitation items, medicines etc.) has been sent from Monrovia. 

The ICRC has provided Kakata Government Health Centre with non food items, equipment and beds, and positioned an ICRC/LNCRS ambulance to evacuate/refer any patients located on the road axis of Totota-Kakata-Monrovia. 

A total of 50 kits for war-wounded have been handed over to the Liberian authoritie s in Monrovia as an emergency measure.

Owing to the lack of space in referral hospitals, the ICRC is currently assessing various options to improve access to surgical care. 

At Totota , some 3,000 IDP families have arrived. In coordination with MSF-France, MSF-Switzerland and Concern, emergency activities (trench latrines, transit shelter, water trucking and mobile clinics) are being organised. The ICRC is responsible for the building and maintenance of latrines for IDPs gathering there.

In the Monrovia camps, ICRC continued its rolling distributions and remained heavily involved in the lay-out, construction, and overall water and sanitation provision in Blamacee Camp, the largest of the Monrovia camps. Support to the VOA transit site, in particular with water and sanitation services, also continued.

In Guinea, operations are closely coordinated with the ICRC sub-delegation in Nzérékoré covering the border area, in particular for war-wounded, the RCM network and for protection issues. In Sierra Leone a similar service is available (RCMs for refugees arriving and protection activities for refugees)

Activities March - April 2002 

Efforts continued to improve IDP camps by transforming them into semi-permanent settlements. During this period the ICRC moved ahead with its agricultural programmes in Gbarnga. However, in parallel, with the new movements of IDPs, the humanitarian community was forced to extend its intervention towards the emergency needs of displaced persons and protection issues. 

For those IDPs from Klay who arrived at Monrovia, the ICRC helped to lobby the authorities to agree on the creation of four permanent IDP sites on the outskirts of the city for approximately 20,000 IDPs. The ICRC commenced activities at the Blamacee site and is responsible for camp layout, shelter construction, and will also provide tarpaulins upon completion of hut construction. In addition, the shelter team started building a clinic for use by ICRC's health department. Finally, during this period, new waves of IDPs arrived at the camps in Monrovia from Bong Mines. The ICRC generally supported other camps where INGOs were not fully able to cope with the needs.

 Nonfood items for IDPs  

Over the last few months due to insecurity and constant new movements of IDPs it has been difficult to register IDPs accurately and carry out large-scale distributions. ICRC, for instance, was two days away from executing an emergency distribution to the 10’000 plus people that were stranded in Klay, when the February 7 attack again scattered everybody.

 (Jan-May 2002)  

 Kitchen sets  


 Sleeping mats  


 Jerry cans  










8,748 kg


 Camp management - shelter  

The ICRC was responsible for the camp layout and hut construction at TV Tower in Gbarnga and at School Camp in Belefanai (until their evacuation in May) and continues to do so at Blamacee camp at Monrovia. In the initial emergency phase tarpaulins and construction material are used to provide temporary semi-permanent structures. A total of 2,034 tarpaulins were distributed between January and May 2002. In a second stage more permanent structures (huts) are built. 

 (Huts constructed between Jan-May 2002)  

 TV Tower  

 School Camp  


400 (total 1,000)

560 (total 1,065)

750 (1,516 more units are under construction)


ICRC's agriculture project does not focus on the cultivation of staple crops. Instead, it aims to broaden the nutritional base of both IDPs and residents through the cultivation of vegetables. Beneficiaries receive vegetable seed kits and tools, training and the ICRC lobbies the authorities on their behalf to try and secure adequate land to farm.


 (Jan-Mar. 2002)  

 Female F/H  

 Male F/H  


Gbarnga (Res)




Gbarnga area (Res)




TV Tower (IDP)








 Water and habitat  

This quarter has been a busy one for the delegation due to multiple emergency situations (construction of wells, boreholes, latrines, garbage pits and bath pits and well rehabilitation) in addition to continuing activities in TV Tower and School Camp, and also ICRC's recent involvement in Blamacee. 

 Health (Jan-March 2002)  

· Continued to fully support the ICRC/LNRCS health clinic in TV Tower camp. Between Jan-Mar. 2002, the clinic treated 4,679 patients, out of whom 2,376 were children. The ambulance has transported 52 patients from the clinic to Phebe Hospital;

· The Red Cross, together with the Curran immunisation team continued its vaccination program to a total of 5 IDPs camps in Bong County. The team vaccinated 7,019 children under 5 years of age;

· Continued to manage three hygiene/health education teams in three IDPs camps in Bong County;

· Assisted Phebe Hospital on an ad hoc basis with injectable and oral drugs, and dressing material to benefit the treated sick IDP`s and war wounded.

· Through its mobile clinic in the Monrovia district the ICRC treated 10,254 patients, out of whom 4,606 were children. Thirty three patients were evacuated to referral hospitals in Monrovia.

 Restoring Family links  

· In collaboration with the LNRCS, carried out tracing activities in various displaced (Belefanai, TV-Tower, Cari 1 and 2) and refugee camps (Sinje, VOA and Samukai) and also in all count ies (except for Lofa County) of the country. Collected 613 RCMs and distributed 296.

· Repatriated 6 Sierra Leonean UAMs from Sinje Refugee Camp to Sierra Leone, where they were reunified with their parents in Daru.

· Registered Liberian UAMs in neighbouring countries and started to prepare entering data into ICRC regional UAM database.


 People Deprived of Freedom  

· Visited nine detention centres. Distributed food and non-food items and carried out rehabilitation activities within the prison buildings. The ICRC continued its visits to security detainees in government places of detention (prisons and police stations) as part of its ongoing prison work to monitor conditions. The ICRC is currently negotiating with the authorities to be able to visit people who have been recently arrested in connection with the conflict. Where necessary medical items and non-food assistance is provided and minor repairs carried out to cooking facilities and water supply and sanitation systems and roofs.

 Dissemination activities  

· The ICRC provides training in international humanitarian law for armed forces and security forces. Information sessions are also regularly organised to raise awareness of the ICRC's mandate and activities for national and local authorities, the faculty of law at Monrovia University, local authorities, and members of civil society (the media, the general public, local and international NGOs, university students, secondary school teachers and students).

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