Resentment simmers in Liberia's 'Ebola jail town'

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Liberian soldiers patrol Dolo Town, quarantined two weeks ago to limit the spread of Ebola

Liberian soldiers patrol Dolo Town, quarantined two weeks ago to limit the spread of Ebola (AFP Photo/Dominique Faget)

Dolo Town (Liberia) (AFP) - Trapped since officials placed them in quarantine two weeks ago, the residents of Dolo Town are becoming increasingly resentful over their incarceration in Liberia's open "Ebola jail".

Around 17,000 increasingly hungry residents in the settlement, close to the international airport, are forced to queue for rations of rice while soldiers blockade them in at gunpoint.

The usually-packed streets are almost empty, as residents observe quarantine measures in a bid to halt a particularly severe outbreak of a virus which has killed 2,000 west Africans, half of them in Liberia.

Dolo Town, 75 kilometres (47 miles) east of Monrovia, was placed in lockdown on August 20 at the same time as West Point, a slum in the capital.

While the West Point lockdown caused riots, people have largely accepted the measures to contain them in Dolo Town. But their patience is wearing thin.

"I am used to going out every day to hustle for my family to eat. Now look at me, sitting here like a kid, looking at my wife and children all day," carpenter Jallah Freeman, 56, tells AFP as he sits in front of his house.

"I am tired. I am fed up with this quarantine. We beg the government to lift this thing."

Most of the working age inhabitants of Dolo Town are employed at a nearby plantation owned by US tyre maker Firestone, the largest natural rubber operation in the world, covering almost 500 square kilometres (200 square miles).

- 'We are in jail' -

"We have not been going to work. We will not be able to go until the quarantine is lifted. It is regrettable but what can we do? We want to be free. We are in jail," Firestone employee Mohamed Fofana told AFP.

Firestone contained a possible outbreak when an employee's wife became infected in April, and has its own hospital with an isolated Ebola treatment ward. The company has scaled back production since the quarantine.

At Dolo Town's market, relocated from the city's outskirts, women sit at roadside stalls selling pepper, oil, some fish, salt and fruit.

Desperate and hungry people wander from stall to stall, searching for food among the increasingly dwindling stocks.

"They don’t allow us to go anywhere. We are only allowed to go and stand at the (checkpoint) and family members from elsewhere can come there to bring us food and other things we need," says stallholder Kebeh Morris.

"We can see the trucks bringing the food but not everyone is getting it for now. Like us: we don’t even have a ticket yet so we don't know when we will get the food. Until then, we have to rely on our family members out there to bring us food."

By the beginning of August, 30 people had died in Dolo Town, and were dropping at the rate of at least three a day.

Ninety percent of the victims were churchgoers in the southern part of town, an enclave for the ethnic Bassa people, who began showing symptoms after returning from burying a fellow member of their congregation.

Soldiers have barricaded the entry road into the town and they patrol its periphery throughout the day. Troops can also be seen with their weapons walking the streets and supervising burials.

- 'No sick people' -

Despite the lockdown, despite the death which stalks Dolo Town, many of the inhabitants interviewed by AFP are sceptical about the claim that they are in an Ebola hotspot.

"Since the government quarantined this place for about two weeks now, they have not taken any sick person from here. We have not seen any case yet," Reginald Logan tells AFP.

Monrovia resident Nathaniel Kangar had come to visit his parents when he found himself trapped by the quarantine order.

"I am forced to be here until it is lifted before I go back to my family. They told us that no one should leave and no one is coming in," he said.

"I want to obey the government's order so I am here. I agree that the virus exists but I don't agree with the process that is going on in Dolo Town.

"When they come and get someone based on symptoms like vomiting or hiccoughs, they will not come back to tell us what was the result of the testing."

Others, though, are in no doubt about the dangers.

At a cemetery among homes in the Bassa area, a heavy tropical downpour begins as a local government vehicle brings in two Ebola victims wrapped in body bags, just a few feet from a homes where children are playing.

"We have to put stop to this. They can’t bring Ebola bodies and come bury them here just like that," shouts Samuel Paygar, a 61-year-old resident of a nearby house.

"They are putting us in danger. The next time they come we will stop them."