West Point, an impoverished neighbored in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, awoke on Wednesday morning to find that it had been quarantined due to the spread of the Ebola virus. The reaction to being locked in by riot police was a swift escalation of mob violence that left both police and rioters injured.
The New York Times reports that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf decreed the quarantine of West Point late Tuesday night, so that those living within the neighborhood limits realized they could not leave upon awaking. The move is intended to keep those within the neighborhood, which has been ravaged by the Ebola virus, from spreading the virus in other areas of the sprawling city. The quarantine is keeping between 60,000 and 120,000 people trapped in the area, with no means of buying food or necessary goods outside of those that had already been imported into stores in the area.
The news of a quarantine triggered heavy violence in the area, as “angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out. Soldiers repelled the surging crowd with live rounds, driving back hundreds of young men.” Some of the rioters were later seen bleeding openly on the ground as police shot at the mob to drive them back.
These violent incidents follow the looting of an Ebola clinic set up in the neighborhood, triggered in large part by a refusal on the part of residents to believe that Ebola was a real disease the government was attempting to combat. The incident resulted in looters taking from the area bloody sheets and blankets, as well as a number of items that could carry the Ebola virus on them.
West Point is particularly ill-equipped to handle an Ebola outbreak. A report on West Point’s impoverished conditions in 2009 notes that, at the time, the 70,000 residents of the area had access to only four public toilets. Given the lack of infrastructure and destructiveness of the area’s rainy season, most families do not have private toilets. The desperation has led to public defecation becoming a common occurrence, as one also needs to pay to use public bathroom facilities:
A visit to a toilet in West Point costs 2.5 US cents; the young men running the latrines said there were around 500 users a day. The facilities can be smelled 50 metres away, with the floor of each squalid cubicle 15cm deep in soiled newspaper that residents use to wipe their posteriors. Staff use gloved hands to scoop the used paper into a wheelbarrow, which they lug to the nearby river or beach to dump its contents into the water. “The situation is just getting worse here. There are more people for fewer toilets; people just openly defecate between their houses – conditions are really bad,” West Point community activist Darius Nyante told IRIN.
As of press time, clashes have subsided, but West Point remained quarantined. The area surrounding the neighborhood continues to be patrolled by fully-armed officers, and residents are not permitted to leave the cordoned off area.