Amid the reports emerging out of Liberia, it’s difficult to discern what is true and what isn’t.
But the fear they carry is undeniable: Fear of the disease, fear of dead bodies, fear that God himself has sent down a terrible plague to blight the people of Liberia for their transgressions.
There are local reports that “armed men” are allegedly trying to poison wells “to kill in the name of Ebola.” There are reports that the government is dumping bodies by the truckload at a mass grave on the west bank of a river and nearby residents fret over water contamination. And there are Reuters reports of bodies lying in the streets of Liberia’s capital Monrovia for days.
The Ebola pandemic — which has killed 887 in West Africa including 255 in Liberia — has terrified people so much that some local leaders discern divine meaning in it. According toFront Page Africa and the Daily Observer, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called on Tuesday for all residents to fast for three days and pray for forgiveness.
“Relying on His divine guidance for our survival as a nation,” she announced, “I call on all Liberians to observe three days of national fast and prayer to seek God’s face to have mercy on us and forgive our sins and heal our land, Liberia, as we continue to fight against the deadly Ebola virus.”
That followed a recent recommendation by the Liberian Council of Churches, which said in a statement last week the outbreak has Biblical implications. “God is angry with Liberia,” the religious leaders said, according to the Daily Observer. “Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.”
The statement then urged people to stay home. But while it would seem an intuitive method of controlling the disease, the act of staying put, according to Reuters, can mean medical workers and patients fail to show up at clinics, frustrating overtaxed government agencies with few resources to combat what’s now a full-blown pandemic. Many Liberians remain deeply distrustful of Western medicine, and don’t want to go to the hospital if they start feeling unwell, reportedReuters’s Clair MacDougall and Daniel Flynn.
Some sick villagers in Paynesville outside Monrovia, for instance, forbid government aid workers entry to their house, the Daily Observer reported. “Family members there refused to talk to them,” one villager said. “They even claimed that the team was there because they wanted to remove the kidneys of [the sick] if they followed the team to a nearby health facility for testing.”
As a result of such misgivings, the bodies are piling up in Monrovia: in the rivers, in front of houses, in streets. As seen in video captured by France 24, one suspected Ebola victim died underneath a tree, on top of stones, in a red skirt. Concerned neighbors viewed her corpse from afar as health workers draped her in a white sheet.
Two more bodies, cloaked in white body bags, bobbed in a city lake off a main thoroughfare, according to a lengthy Front Page Africa report. Motorists said they contacted the health ministry, but no one showed up, so the bodies remained in the lake, floating. “There are dead bodies all over the place and they now know that it’s real,” Agence France-Presse recently quoted the Liberian president saying. “This is very, very serious; it’s very nearing a catastrophe.”
In another section of Monrovia, Reuters reported, two men who had shown symptoms of Ebola died in the streets — and then lay there undisturbed for four days before government workers picked them up. “They both gave up and dropped dead on the ground on the street of Clara Town,” one resident told the news organization.
Other relatives of the dead were seen dragging corpses onto the street and leaving them there. “They are therefore removing the bodies from their homes and are putting them out in the street,” Information Minister Lewis Brown told Reuters. “They’re exposing themselves to the risk of being contaminated. We’re asking people to please leave the bodies in their homes and we’ll pick them up.”
The issue of what to do with the bodies, once collected, has confounded local officials who have struggled with whether to cremate them or bury them — and where. Few communities want to take the bodies, according to the Daily Observer. One man told the paper that bodies had been disposed of on his private land.