UN survey finds 249,000 living on the edge in Monrovia

A UN survey of living conditions in the Liberian capital Monrovia shows that a quarter of a million people, impoverished and made homeless by war are living precariously, with most eating just one meal a day.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said this Livelihood Needs Assessment was carried out in camps for displaced people and poor suburbs of the city in September.

It found that on average five people were living in each room and 63 percent of them ate only one meal a day. They had very few possessions and spent 70 percent of their scant income on buying food.

The situation was worst in the special camps set up to accommodate people displaced from their homes by Liberia's 14-year civil war.

There, the survey, conducted as WFP was just starting to distribute food in Monrovia, found that people spent 90 to 95 percent of their money on buying enough food to stay alive.

The assessment, carried out by WFP and several other UN agencies, found that 105,000 people were living in "extremely vulnerable" conditions, 70 percent of them in IDP camps.

A further 146,000 people were classifed as being "very vulnerable."

WFP said these two groups spent over 85 percent of their income on food, did not eat enough and suffered high levels of chronic malnutrition.

The survey showed that 6.2 percent of all children aged between six months and five years were acutely malnourished. Acute malnutrition was highest - over 10 percent in children aged under two.

The report noted that chronic malnutrition was very high at 36 percent in the surveyed population as a whole, indicating the hardships people had suffered. On average, the war had caused each household to move home twice over the past five years.

The assessment said that diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, cough and high blood pressure were common illnesses in the poor neighbourhoods surveyed.

It blamed this on poor sanitation, high levels of pollution, a lack of sufficient drinking water, poor living conditions and lack of healthcare.

The United Nations estimates that about 500,000 of Liberia's three million people have been displaced from their homes by the civil war which ended with a peace agrement in August.

The assessment was carried out jointly by WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Planning.