The use of the old Indian crematorium by the Liberian government for the cremation of Ebola-infested human bodies, has compelled hundreds of residents to abandon homes and farms in the area, according to investigations conducted by the Daily Observer.
The crematorium occupies a portion of swampland near Boystown, off the highway leading to Marshall City, Lower Margibi County.
Residents, once excited about their decent and beautifully painted houses, are fleeing the area because of what they call the serious environmental hazards caused by the burning of Ebola dead bodies in the crematorium.
“No one wants to live around here anymore,” Mr. Albert T. Reeves, community chairman told the Daily Observer during a tour last Tuesday. “Many here are affected psychologically and what we are asking for is the relocation of the crematorium by the Liberian government.”
Many residents who accompanied our reporter on the tour remained grim, urging that the government find a new place, far beyond any community, to cremate the Ebola corpses.
A huge plot of land next to the crematorium, once used for rice cultivation, has been abandoned because of increased activity at the crematorium, according to Reeves.
“Whenever the human bodies are being burnt in the morning and in the afternoon, there are huge explosions and everyone here can feel the ground itself shaking,” Reeves said.
“He said the nearly 5,000 residents in the various smaller towns have expressed their opposition to the crematorium and have written a letter of complaint to Senator Oscar Cooper, of Margibi County and asking for redress.
The towns include Gbonosum, Gbono’s, Ben, Kpain, Zolie, Zorkpeh, Kpeh, Barjoe, Bannah, John and Government Farm.
In their letter, a copy of which is with the Daily Observer, the residents said, “On August 2, 2014, we were shocked to learn that the old Indian crematorium which should not be used to cremate anybody because of its proximity to an emerging community, had been selected for the cremation of EBOLA BODIES by the custodians of our safety and rights.”
The community noted its opposition when the exercise began “in our backyards but (we) were harassed and intimidated into submission by heavily armed soldiers…”
Among the many that joined the tour were leaders of churches that had been abandoned and others whose membership had dwindled to a handful of worshippers.
What irks the residents is the lack of response from Senator Cooper.
“We’ve been waiting to hear from him about our concerns but since the letter was sent to him on October 6, we are yet to hear from him,” Reeves said.
Reeves confirmed that the crematorium was built in the 1970s when there was no Liberian community near the area.
“Our people sold the land to the Indians for the project,” he admitted, “but you know that cremating bodies is not what we do here.”
While that in itself was not really a problem, the increased activity following the current (Ebola) crisis has been the problem, he said.
“Look over there at those houses,” said Reeves pointing to a cluster of houses in the distance. “Everybody there is gone and farms in this area have all been abandoned.”
When contacted, the Chairperson of the Task Force for Cremation of Liberian Ebola Dead, Madam Ciatta Bishop, told the Daily Observer that she was aware of the concerns of the residents.
She noted that as much as she agreed with the residents’ concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a Liberian government agency responsible for pollution control, is also aware of the nature of the crematorium.
When contacted yesterday, EPA’s deputy executive director, Stephen Y. Neufville, told the Daily Observer that the residents’ request is being acted upon and a team of EPA officers is working on it.
“After their investigation,” Neufville said, “we will act on their (EPA) recommendations” by bringing them to the immediate attention of the Liberian government.
Another issue raised by the residents is the stigma hounding them at the nearby market. “They refuse to sell products to us as we are also known as the Ebola community,” said Reeves.
He appealed to the Liberian government for psycho-social intervention to educate residents in and around the area to discontinue stigmatizing of their community residents.