DUÉKOÉ / MAN, Côte d’Ivoire, 15 April 2011 – “Duékoué is far west, we need to find our way back to normal,” said Ibrahim, 39, head of an extended family of eight who found shelter at one of the sites for displaced people in the city of Man in western Côte d’Ivoire. Field report by Gaelle Bausson
“We have fled from our homes leaving our meal on the fire, Kalashnikovs were firing. We walked for 25 kilometers, my sister, my pregnant wife and I with all those kids,” he adds pointing at three young children and two adolescents. “We need food and health care, we need to get on with our lives.”
Situation remains dire
After four months of political stalemate and battles in the West and the country’s main city Abidjan, the dark clouds of post electoral violence and fighting are slowly parting, making way for a path to recovery in Côte d’Ivoire.
Despite the capture of Laurent Gbagbo, the humanitarian situation remains deeply troubling as approximately 750,000 people have fled their homes in fear of violence and 150,000 have left to neighboring Liberia. Adding to an already dire scenario, five million people have been stranded in their homes in the last two weeks in Abidjan, with little or no access to food, water and health care.
In the West, the situation of displaced people like Ibrahim and his family is worrying, particularly in the cities of Man, Guiglo and Danane and especially in Duékoué. There, 27,500 people, mostly women and children, are sheltered on a site at the Catholic Mission that is not bigger than two soccer stadiums. “Overcrowding is the most pressing issue,” said Father Cyprien Ahoune who heads the mission and work with UNICEF and other humanitarian actors to respond to the needs of the displaced.
For UNICEF, the most pressing risk is epidemics like measles and diarrheal diseases.
“The recent influx of 20,000 new arrivals has strained the resources at the camp beyond limits. Despite the hard work of all humanitarian actors, clean water and sanitation needs are not covered appropriately and it’s urgent to set up other sites to improve living conditions and prevent epidemics,” stressed Basile Djedjro, WASH Officer for UNICEF.
UNICEF prepares for its first airlift since the fighting begun. 32 metric tons of humanitarian supplies will land in embattled cities like Abidjan on the 16th of April
“To respect the minimum humanitarian standards, we need to provide around two times more water and build more than 400 other latrines,” explained François Bellet, Regional WASH Specialist for UNICEF in West and Central Africa.
“We could manage with 1,000 people, but as it is, the most pressing is to relocate people in other sites,” said Father Cyprien.
Only a few are ready to return to their homes and wary of the insecurity that still remains in some areas and of the inter-ethnic tensions that are palpable as soon as you discuss with the people of the region. The Prefect and other local authorities have identified other sites and UNICEF and partner NGOS are hard at work to set up basic services on these.
UNICEF airlifting supplies
Another major concern is providing health care in a context of shortage of medicine, many medical staff not reporting to work and a broken supply chain due to insecurity.
“My twin grandsons have fallen sick with cough and fever and one of them died here at the camp last week,” said Tehe Fie Ernest, 42, the grandfather, sitting in the middle of his family and watching over his other grandson, asleep. “He has been very weak and has not been eating for a week, but we received medicine at the camp and I hope he’s going to be better.”
The good news is that for the first time in weeks, UNICEF will be able to airlift over 60 tons of medical, nutrition, education, water and sanitation supplies to the country.
“It remains difficult for our teams to circulate in Abidjan but UNICEF is slowly but steadily reaching out to the people to deliver much needed aid,” said Hervé Ludovic de Lys, UNICEF Designated Representative in Côte d’Ivoire.
The chartered cargo planes are set to reach Abidjan, Man in the west of the country and Bouake in the center on the 16th of April.