Threats of Starvation, Violence Follow Quarantine of Tens of Thousands in Liberia

Threats of Starvation, Violence Follow Quarantine of Tens of Thousands in Liberia

Sixteen-year-old Shaki Kamara, a resident of Liberia’s impoverished West Point slum, has become the face of the terror ravaging Monrovia as the government attempts to fight the growing Ebola epidemic. Kamara was shot by police during violent exchanges between law enforcement and West Point residents quarantined into their neighborhood with little food and water.

The gruesome image of Kamara’s leg injury and subsequent death is the top story at Liberia’s largest newspaper, The Observer. Kamara, the newspaper reports, was denied treatment at several hospitals before dying in a pool of his own blood, as hospitals are on notice that anyone from West Point could be carrying Ebola.

The Liberian government quarantined the West Point neighborhood, which is believed to be the home of anywhere between 60,000 and 120,000 Liberians, in the early hours of Tuesday morning after a group of rioters attacked and looted an Ebola clinic in the area. Authorities grew alarmed that Ebola would spread rapidly throughout the densely populated neighborhood as looters attempted to sell hospital supplies like bedsheets and medical equipment, some believed to be drenched in the blood of Ebola victims.

The government issued the quarantine notice after authorities announced they had rounded up a number of Ebola victims that fled the clinic during the violent looting. With Ebola victims loose in the streets and items carrying the blood of Ebola victims spread throughout West Point – a neighborhood whose number of public toilets is in the single digits – the government chose to cordon off the area rather than risk such dangers spreading throughout the nation’s capital.

The quarantine quickly led to violence when residents awoke to find police surrounding their neighborhood. No one is allowed to leave West Point without permission, and the government continues to struggle to bring in enough food and water for the thousands within the quarantine zone to survive. Residents threw rocks at police and attacked in any way they could as merchants within the quarantine zone spiked prices for food, particularly rice, which has “increased to anywhere between L$75.00 and L$100.00, up from L$20.00 and 30.00 prior to the quarantine.”

Police, in response to rioters, shot bullets and muscle blast at the mass of people attempting to break through the quarantine barricade, which included not only West Point residents but those who were trapped within Township limits during a visit and could not return home.

Liberian authorities are actively denying that police have orders to shoot. Defense Minister Brownie Samukai told the Observer and others at a press conference that such orders would have to come directly from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and have yet to do so: “Orders to the soldiers in the case of any [eventuality] will have to come from the C-I-C, who is the President of the country. Right now, we have not received such an instruction to shoot and/or kill, because that order is not reflective of the C-I-C’s mandate and of the Liberian refurbished army.”

While the violence appears to have subsided in the past two days, residents’ desperation facing food shortages threatens to stoke the flames of violence as well. The Toronto Star reports that police efforts to distribute food and water were being conducted at a slow and steady rate through a sliver in the quarantine barricade on Thursday. Moses Browne, an aid worker with the group Plan International, told the Star West Point “is in an anarchy situation:” “We’re not just fighting Ebola here, we are fighting hunger, too.”

The death toll from Ebola in West Africa has broken 1,350 so far, according to the World Health Organization’s official estimates. Many consider this number low, as many of Ebola’s victims remain obscured in barely reachable rural areas, and many others carrying the virus are still asymptomatic, as the virus takes one to three weeks to begin making its carrier ill. While the virus remains the primary threat to life in West Africa, the repercussions of struggling against the virus – quarantines, exhaustion of medical resources, and lack of amenities generally – threaten the population at comparable rates to that of Ebola itself, particularly in impoverished and densely populated urban communities like West Point.


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