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Liberia: a glimmer of hope in a dark place

23-01-2004 Operational Update

After 14 years of civil war, culminating in the murderous events of 2003, the exhausted people of Liberia may at last have reason to hope for better days. The displaced are starting to return home, and humanitarian assistance is starting to reach deep into the countryside. But the needs are enormous.


  The Red Cross has registered 2,000 children seeking their families
Photo ICRC, ref. LR-E-00038-400

The situation in Liberia has not yet completely stabilised and several regions of the country are still insecure, but there are some positive signs that peace is starting to become a reality for many Liberians. UN peacekeepers are gradually deploying in areas controlled by LURD and MODEL forces; some of the hundreds of thousands of people who fled the fighting are timidly returnng to their villages from inside Liberia or neighbouring countries.

Main ICRC activities in Liberia, 2004:

  • protecting civilians and detainees
  • restoring contact between members of separated families
  • assisting internally displaced persons (IDPs) and vulnerable residents
  • improving agricultural production, access to safe drinking water and medical care
  • promoting respect for the rules of international humanitarian law
  • strengthening the Liberian Red Cross


The protracted conflict has had a huge impact on the population, and humanitarian needs will remain considerable in 2004. Civilians continue to face harassment by groups who have not yet been disarmed. Tens of thousands lost contact with family members and hundreds of children have no family to take care of them.

After 14 years of civil war, economic and political problems, the Liberian health system has collapsed. Water and sanitation structures have deteriorated over the years and are non-existent in rural areas. The conflict and population displacements have also overburdened the already weakened resources of resident communities.

In 2004 the ICRC plans to continue expanding its activities deep into the country's interior. Since August, programmes have shifted from assisting the displaced and resident populations in and around Monrovia to focusing on residents and re-settlers in the country's 15 counties.

As lead agency for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC is coordinating the joint Red Cross response, working with the Liberian National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) to assist the victims of the conflict.

At present, there are 116 national staff, 250 employees at the JFK Hospital, Monrovia, and 47 expatriates working for the ICRC in Liberia. Over 500 LNRCS volunteers assist the ICRC in its operational activities.

 Highlights of ICRC action in 2003  

 June - July: emergency response  


  • under extremely difficult conflict conditions, more than 2,000 operations were carried out at the ICRC's surgery facility at JFK Hospital in Monrovia

  • together with the Liberian Red Cross, the ICRC provided emergency water and sanitation facilities for over 300,000 people and non-food and shelter support for over 100,000 people crowded into Monrovia and surrounding areas

 August – December: consolidation  


  • programmes gradually expanded from the capital to residents and re-settlers acorss the country

  • some 250,000 people provided with non-food assistance (shelter, cooking and hygiene materials)

  • water and sanitation activities carried out where needed (and where possible)

  • sub-delegations opened in Zwedru (October) and Voinjama (November), allowing for needs assessments and distributions to be made in areas previously inaccessible;

  • family links network strengthened (76 tracing offices countrywide, 37,000 Red Cross messages handled during the year; 185 children reunited with their families);

  • visits to detainees (21 visits to 14 places of detention)

  • cooperation activities with the Liberian Red Cross

 Key priorities in 2004  


The ICRC will expand, in geographical terms, activities implemented in 2003. Activities will be steadily decreased in Monrovia, maintaining programmes in IDP camps, while sharply increasing the ICRC's presence and assistance and protection programmes for residents and returnees up-country.

 People deprived of freedom: in signing the peace agreement in August 2003, the warring parties undertook to provide the ICRC with information regarding persons detained or abducted in connection with the conflict and allow the ICRC to visit them, evaluate their state of health and help relocate them upon their release.

 Restoring family links: restoring and maintaining family links will be a major priority for the delegation, which will strengthen its Red Cross message network throughout Liberia and coordinate with other ICRC delegations in the region. Particular attention will be given to reuniting with their families, where possible, more than 2,000 vulnerable or separated Liberian children who have been registered by the Red Cross in Liberia and neighbouring countries.

 Medical activities: the ICRC will continue to ensure that the ICRC surgical unit at the JFK hospital remains fully capable of providing medical and surgical care. It will support surgical clinics outside Monrovia, set up an efficient patients'referral system, work to build the capacity of medical staff and continue to provide basic materials and drugs to medical facilities. As other organizations become able to work, the ICRC plans to hand over its responsibilities.

 Agricultural support: as the situation allows, the ICRC will re-direct its assistance programmes towards residents and returnees, in particular via major relief, water and sanitation and agricultural activities planned for the first half of 2004. Tools and rice seed will be distributed for 20,000 families for the forthcoming May planting season.

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