Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: ICRC will continue to assist the population

Although the Ouagadougou peace agreement represents a step towards national reconciliation, the people of Côte d'Ivoire are still in need of protection and assistance. With this in mind, says Claude-Alain Zappella, head of the ICRC's delegation in Côte d'Ivoire, the organization is keeping a close eye on the situation on the ground.

What consequences will the Ouagadougou agreement and the gradual dismantling of the confidence zone have in humanitarian terms?

The Ouagadougou agreement has revived the post-crisis process, which had been at a standstill since the adoption of resolution 1721. The dismantling of the confidence zone will enable people to move freely between the north and south of the country, stimulate trade and allow the administration to re-establish itself in the north and west. It is therefore an important step towards the country's reunification.

As a result of the agreement, we will probably be seeing a huge number of displaced people returning to their homes. Once there, they will be facing many problems. To begin with, they will not necessarily be well received in their home villages, where the land they abandoned is now being farmed by those who remained behind. It is likely that conflict will rapidly break out between the two groups.

Secondly, returnees will have problems resettling and adjusting to life in an environment from which they have been absent for nearly five years. They will have to find adequate housing and new land to farm, as well as tools. They might quickly find themselves in need of aid to help them reintegrate their communities and find a way to live side by side with their former neighbours.

Since the outset of the conflict, the security zone has been an area of lawlessness - a no man's land where bandits and thieves hold sway. Consequently, returnees will also be in need of protection, especially in the Grand Ouest region, where land ownership is the source of recurrent quarrels. Owing to the conflict, interethnic tensions have become firmly entrenched.

Will the dismantling of the confidence zone prompt the ICRC to redeploy its staff and review its activities in the country?

The ICRC acts mainly in emergency situations. With the gradual restoration of peace, it will no doubt review its set-up and activities in the country, determining which areas are the most sensitive and exposed to violence and assessing needs with a view to refocusing its work. Given the precarious security situation, it will keep a close watch on protection issues and on respect for human rights. In its assistance activities, it will concentrate on longer-term programmes designed to facilitate the resumption of work by development agencies.

Among other things, the ICRC will continue to provide technical support for state and community structures so as to encourage independent management of water purification and supply systems and the realization of programmes to improve and protect existing wells, especially in the north and south of the country. It might also help returnees to resettle by providing them with technical support and food and other aid or by distributing seed and tools, which would stimulate agriculture. However, it will continue to focus the bulk of its efforts on visiting persons deprived of their liberty - an area where there the problems to solve are huge.

What humanitarian problems must the country overcome to achieve long-term stability?

The primary way to achieve long-term stability is through political action, among other things by identifying the various communities living in the country, disarming all unauthorized bearers of weapons, restoring a credible system of justice, solving the land problem in rural areas, which is the source of recurrent interethnic tensions, and, of course, holding fair and transparent elections.

Humanitarian action can certainly have a pacifying influence. It is a necessary, although insufficient, condition for peace. Among the major humanitarian issues that must be addressed are the problems posed by youth unemployment and the country's antiquated educational system, and also the problem of organizing the reception of returnees and ensuring that they can resettle in their home villages and live on peaceful terms with their former neighbours.

In order to achieve long-lasting stability, medico-social and health-care facilities will also have to be rehabilitated and the number of skilled medical staff increased, especially in the northern and western regions, so as to ensure that everyone has access to health care.