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WFP food is unloaded ahead of a food distribution in the quantined West Point district of the Liberian capital
(Copyright: WFP/Frances Kennedy)
The deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa has spread to major Liberian cities, including the capital Monrovia, which has become a major focal point for the epidemic. WFP’s Spokeswoman Frances Kennedy reports from the quarantined West Point neighbourhood.
MONROVIA – Since the Liberian authorities cordoned off the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, in a bid to halt the spread of the Ebola virus, residents from the densely-populated shantytown are effectively trapped, with police and soldiers guarding the entry points.
The area, where wooden shacks are clustered on a sandy strip of land sticking out into the sea, had become a tinderbox and, as we enter, policemen push back angry crowds. They search vehicles coming out – finding young men hidden in the trunks of cars.
As part of its wider Ebola emergency response, the World Food Programme is delivering food for family ration packs in West Point, planning to reach more than 50,000 people, working with community leaders and partners the Liberian Red Cross.
“I most certainly am grateful that this big blue truck has come along and we are being registered and our family is able to take home some food tonight,” says Jenneh Kamera, pictured below, as she washes her hands with chlorinated water before joining the queue.
Feeding her four children is tough as her income dried up overnight because she can no longer move freely. “I used to earn up to 15USD a day selling fish and frozen foods in the city market. At home, I cooked good food for my kids, chicken and fish soups, and now we are eating mainly rice.”
She says things have changed since the Ebola virus arrived in the capital from the remote bush areas where it first erupted. “I worry 24/7” she admits, “about my kids, who are all at home because the schools are closed, but mainly about how we can keep going.
Families of five receive a 50 kg bag of rice, lentils and 5 litres of cooking oil. Wheelbarrows are the vehicle of choice for taking home the rations. Men line up patiently chatting with their barrows along one side of the road, as women queue on the other.
WFP Scales Up Its Response To Ebola Outbreak In West Africa
WFP is scaling up its response to Ebola virus outbreak, providing food assistance to more than 1 million people in West Africa. “The operation has been quite intense and we intend to scale it up as the need arises,” Etienne Christopher Saint-Jean, the WFP national logistics officer in Liberia, explained. “We intend to be very proactive instead of reactive to the situation.”
Organizing food distributions in this heavily populated slum is challenging, says WFP programme assistant Maurice Fahnbulleh. ”The people receiving food are dealt with in groups of five and monitors urge people to stand four feet apart”.
The spaces are cramped, there is just one main thoroughfare. Rain only complicates matters, and downpours are regular during the current rainy season. Health teams are going throughout the area trying to raise awareness of Ebola and prevent its spread. But mistrust of the authorities means there is deep suspicion in this poor neighbourhood about why they have been segregated and this flares easily into anger and protest.
Also in the line to pick up her food ration is Veronika Coupo, a mother of three, who works as a nanny for a wealthy family on the other side of Monrovia.
“I have not been to work since they shut us in and I am frightened that my employers will find someone else and I will lose my job,” she says, adding that she no longer has cash to buy small items in the markets that still, where the prices of basic items are on the rise.
“I am not frightened of Ebola the virus but I am scared about what it is doing to our lives here,” Veronika says as she hoists the bag of lentils onto her head, and prepares to head home