News archive 2006

Successful Liberian peace mission highlights urgent humanitarian crisis – Statement from the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs

PRESS RELEASE

3 OCTOBER 2006

SUCCESSFUL LIBERIAN PEACE MISSION

HIGHLIGHTS URGENT HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

On the first day of the October General Meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference,
the Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Social Affairs issued the following statement
on the humanitarian crisis in Liberia:

SUCCESSFUL LIBERIAN PEACE MISSION HIGHLIGHTS URGENT HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

“Government needs to prioritise Liberia in its aid budget” – Bishop Raymond Field

The Bishops’ Irish Commission for Justice & Social Affairs (ICJSA) wishes to highlight:
* the critical humanitarian situation current prevailing in Liberia;
* the need for the Irish Government to prioritize aid to this war ravished country;
* the responsibility of the Government to strive to ensure that Irish aid to Liberia
is distributed in a manner that promotes good governance;
* the importance of the continued support of the Irish Government for the maintenance
of a strong UN presence in Liberia; and,
* the dangers of any precipitous Irish troop withdrawal from that country.

According to Bishop Raymond Field, Chair of the ICJSA: “The contribution of the
Irish Defence Forces to the bringing of peace to the people of Liberia is one which needs
to be generously acknowledged.  In addition, what is particularly commendable is the
number of humanitarian projects in Liberia that are currently being assisted by Irish
aid agencies, such as Trócaire and Concern and our army personnel. Amazingly, however,
these achievements have been sparsely documented and barely recorded by the media,
with the notable exception of the national broadcaster.”

On the occasion of the visit in February this year by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to
the Irish Forces serving in Liberia, RTÉ gave widespread coverage to the humanitarian
problem on the ground in Liberia and political developments.”

Bishop Field continued: “It is hard to comprehend the scale of the humanitarian crisis
that exists in Liberia as a result of over 15 years of almost continuous conflict.
The entire infrastructure is in a state of partial or complete collapse.  Liberia
has practically no functioning electricity network at present as the civil war
destroyed almost the entire electrical infrastructure.  In addition, its telephone
network is extremely primitive and confined to parts of Monrovia, and finally, its
road and rail network is practically non-existent.  There are no functioning railways
left in Liberia and only approximately 700km of paved roads in the whole country.
However, even these statistics do not reveal the extent of the humanitarian crisis
in Liberia where the most urgent issues to be tackled are to be found in the health
and education sectors.

“Liberia currently has the world’s fifth highest rates of under-five, infant, and
maternal mortality exacerbated by extremely poor sanitation levels in rural as well
as urban centres.  These alarming statistics are compounded by the fact that as a
result of the civil war there are no adequate health care facilities in Liberia.
Of those that exist, 90% are totally dependent on the support of external
non-governmental agencies for every aspect of their delivery.

“Education is also at crisis point and levels of functional illiteracy amongst adults
are estimated to be between 65% and 75%.   In addition, during the course of the
civil war three quarters of the schools were severely damaged and many teachers
fled the country.  As a result of the prolonged conflict there are large numbers
of children, now projected at almost half a million, who have missed the opportunity
to attend school and who are in need of urgent remedial support.

“Since 2001 Ireland has provided €14m in aid to Liberia to help address humanitarian
needs and to assist returning refuges, provide basic healthcare and assist women
affected by the war.  While welcome, it is but a tiny fraction of the overall Irish
aid budget which in 2007 is estimated to be almost €800 million.”

Bishop Field concluded: “Sensitive to the reality that stability in Liberia is
critically dependent on the successful implementation of measures to promote minimum
levels of social and economic growth, the Government now needs to prioritise Liberia
in its aid budget.” In this regard he noted the Dáil statement (28/3/06) of the
Minister for Defence, Mr O’Dea which relayed the gratitude of the newly democratically
elected President of Liberia, Ms Johnson-Sirleaf for the exceptional contribution of
the Irish Defence Forces over the past three years and her wishes that Ireland would
continue its strong support for Liberia to ensure stability and encourage economic
growth.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:
* Liberia is a small country (slightly larger than the island of Ireland) situated
on the west cost of Africa. Tragically, its recent history has been marked by a
savage civil war with high levels of civilian casualties and a refugee population
of one million persons out of a total population of little more than three million.
Exactly three years ago the first UN troops arrived in Liberia and a force of 450
personnel from the Irish Defence Forces were in the vanguard of a major UN operation
(total troop deployment 15,000 personnel) that in less than three years has brought
peace and a relative stability to this war ravished country.
* Log on to www.catholicjustice.ie for more information on the Irish Commission
for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA).
* The ICJSA is a Commission of the Irish Bishops’ Conference. It was launched by
the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Seán Brady, on 13
June 2005.
* The ICJSA is Chaired by Dr Raymond Field, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin.  The
Commission is part of the Department of Social Issues and International Affairs
of the Irish Bishops’ Conference which is chaired by Dr Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop
of Dublin.
* The role of the ICJSA is to support the Irish Bishops’ Conference in promoting
the social teaching of the Church and to advise on issues of social concern both
nationally and internationally.

Further information:

Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)

 

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