U.N.Officials Explain Happening In Liberia Port City of Harper
By: Martin C. Benson
Fresh reports emanating from the small coastal city of Harper, Maryland County, since its occupation by MODEL forces in May this year, speak of a virtual desertion of the area.
According to reports of a 15-member joint interagency United Nations(UN) and non-governmental organizations that just returned from the area, the situation in the area is however calm with a sparse population of about 3,000 inhabitants.
Several persons mostly refugees and returnees are staying on the border and would only return to Harper if food were to be available via relief distribution exercises, and their security guaranteed by a stabilization force.
Addressing a joint press conference at the UNHCR offices in Monrovia yesterday, Mr. Moses Okello, Country Representative of the UNHCR in Liberia who was flanked by other UN actors, described the mission’s visit to the area as positive.
He said UNHCR initially provided assistance to cover 20,000 persons including Ivorian refugees, third country nationals and returnees but had to pull out because of the fighting in May, 2003, but with the proper security mechanism being put in place, he is hopeful of the resumption of humanitarian assistance soon.
Quoting the assessment team’s report, Mr. Okello said the leadership of the occupying forces, MODEL, have appointed a civilian authority which is administering affairs in Harper.
The reports said the civilian administration is of course still in its infancy and as such, has not been able to provide for the population in any key sector of UN/INGO involvement. However, you hardly see many gun-toting persons in the area.
Mr. Okello also quoted the assessment mission’s report that the WFP and UNHCR offices in Harper, have been completely looted while the airstrip and port remain in good working order, although there is no formal logistical support.
Relative to the general overview of the state of the infrastructure and social amenities in Harper, Mr. Okello quoted the reports as saying that Harper city still does not have electricity and pipe-borne water and the use of wells which is not necessarily providing portable water is meeting current needs of the inhabitants.
The only referral hospital in Harper J.J. Dossen Memorial Hospital has been totally looted, although he said there had been no outbreak of diseases of late, the report said.
The UN report also said Harper city has been looted twice, initially by government forces (militias) prior to their departure, and secondly by MODEL forces upon their arrival.
In Pleebo, which is 30 kilometers north of Harper, is a booming trade in local foodstuff and goods from the Ivory Coast. The UN report said the Pleebo Hospital was in need of basic medicine, although they have a working generator and functioning water pump.
The UNHCR transit camp, formerly housing 3,000 refugees and third countries nationals, is now abandoned.
The reports said the Liberia-Ivory Coast border near Harper is opened but the two barges that ferried people and goods to and fro were inoperative. However, dugout canoes are reportedly operating across the river with apparently little difficulties on the Liberian side.
The team said all health facilities visited were found to have been massively looted and most of the health care personnel have fled the area.
Despite the state of the health facilities, no obvious malnutrition was observed among children in any of the displaced sites, except for Little Wlebo Refugee/Displaced Camp where five malnourished children were seen.
On water and sanitation issue, the report said five out of eight hand pumps in Harper are functional.
According to the assessment team, seven schools that were visited in the county, have been looted, while several of the teachers in the county have fled except one who was seen.
On the issue of food, the report said there is evidence of availability
of food in the region as many types of foodstuff were sold in villages along
the road as well as in market places in Pleebo and Harper at affordable prices.
It said rice is sold at L$15 a cup when brought from Ivory Coast.
Besides, it said farming activities were reportedly unhindered.
On the issue of protection, the report said although the situation appear to be calm in Harper, very few residents have come back to the city. The center of the town is almost empty and civilians with whom the team talked to as well as MODEL authorities confirmed that residents were still afraid to come back.
The authorities of MODEL reported to the mission that the two days the UN spent in Harper have encouraged residents to come back
The reports said cases of rapes, more frequent against refugees, have been reported especially by the women in the isolated refugee camp in Little Webo.
As for the security situation, the report said during the visit upon arrival at the port a strong delegation from MODEL was awaiting and only one person was seen bearing arm. There are nine checkpoints between Harper and Pleebo but the mission said it observed several MODEL fighters unarmed while some had weapons resting against the walls of the checkpoint shelters.
The team said the overall impression is that MODEL fighters are keen to see UN agencies returning to Liberia; disciplined; obeying their local commanders and not harming the local population.
With the report from the assessment team, many residents from Southeastern Liberia have rebuilt hope of resettlement and are optimistic that the accord between the belligerent forces will be honored with the presence of UN intervention.