Four-year-old Falah Saah, too weak from starvation to cry out, could only murmur listlessly as he lay in his mother's lap.
"I want drink, drink, drink," he said softly, nearly drowned out by the moans from other sick children in the ward at Island Hospital, one of only two hospitals still operating in Monrovia, the capital of war-wrecked Liberia.His mother, Maita Solui, said he is one of only three of her seven children to survive the West African country's yearlong civil war.
Hundreds of children have died of starvation, and doctors say that unless a huge food aid program is launched, thousands more will succumb.
Other youngsters, brutalized by seeing mothers raped and fathers, brothers and sisters killed, became child soldiers in the rebel armies. Falah's eldest brother joined up and was killed.
The physical and mental condition of the surviving children has raised fears about the future generation of this West African nation. Relief workers say the degree of starvation has been so great that many children who live will suffer brain damage.
The child soldiers suffer in other ways. At the rebel base in Caldwell, outside the capital, a young boy played with a remote-control toy car. Draped over his shoulder was a machine gun - a real one.
"I'm a man, I have killed like a man," boasted another little boy. He looked 6 or 7 years old, with a gun nearly as tall as he was, but refused to give his age.
For orphans who have watched their parents killed by Liberian troops, the rebel camp offered a substitute family, food - and an opportunity for revenge.
"They are still little children, but how are we going to convince them of that when it's all over?" said Myrtle Gibson, a real estate agent who turned to relief work. "How are we going to make them real people again?
"After this war, we're going to have a lot more wars to fight."
Hunger is the most immediate problem. Starving Monrovians ate the city's pet dogs and cats months ago. They ate zoo animals, including chimpanzees. Then they turned to the vegetation.
A little food is on sale - bunches of green leaves and weeds, some stolen tinned goods, a few oranges, looted rice. But few can afford it.
The Belgian branch of the international aid group Doctors Without Borders started supplementary feeding, now reaching 3,000 children with help from newly arrived United Nations workers.
U.N. Representative Michael Heyn said the relief workers hoped to soon feed 25,000 children. But he said 90,000 in Monrovia need a special diet to recover.