Aid workers fed thousands of starving children Monday with the first donated food to reach their city in seven months, after fighting among Liberia’s rival militias cut off supplies.
Relief officials entered the city of Tubmanburg on Saturday for the first time since February. They found children so malnourished that flesh was falling from their feet. About 15 people were dying each day.
“The people have been prisoners of the town,” said Nicolas Detorrente of the French relief agency Doctors Without Borders. “They haven’t been able to get out to forage for food because of the fighting.”
Aid workers determined that at least 60 percent of the 35,000 residents in Tubmanburg, 50 miles north of the capital Monrovia, were suffering from severe malnutrition. The city’s hospital was looted and abandoned during rebel clashes in April.
Detorrente said his agency and Action Against Hunger delivered food rations to 4,000 children in the city on Monday. He said 82 percent of children 5 and under were malnourished, and that at least 45 percent of them had kwashiorkor, severe malnutrition.
“These are truly staggering rates and surely means that a lot of children have already died,” Detorrente said. He said about 100 of the most serious cases were taken to hospitals in Monrovia.
The U.N. World Food Program will provide another 74 tons of food today, enough to feed 10,000 people for the next two weeks.
“One old woman could not even make it to the distribution center,” said Dipson Tulay, a U.N. food aid monitor who accompanied the first trucks into Tubmanburg on Monday. “She dropped to the ground and died before our own eyes, just two yards from the distribution center.”
World Food Program workers said they feared they would find similar scenes of starvation when they reached other parts of the country isolated by the civil war.