A meeting of West African Red Cross Societies, the International Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross has produced a common strategy to deal with the humanitarian crisis arising out of the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire. Central to this plan is a more effective communications and monitoring system.
The meeting, held in Bassam at the initiative of the International Federation's Regional Delegation in Abidjan, was aimed at devising a more coordinated response to the population movement provoked by the unrest.
"Potentially, this could evolve into an extremely serious long-term crisis within the sub-region," said Eric Michel-Sellier, head of the Federation's Regional Delegation. "It is our duty to ensure that we support Red Cross Societies as they prepare for this eventuality."
Last month, the International Federation launched an appeal for 1.3 million Swiss francs (US$886,000) to help the Red Cross societies in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to cope with the influx of refugees and returnees by providing them with relief items like tents, blankets, drinking water, food and hygiene articles.
Since the conflict erupted in September 2002, an estimated two million people have fled Cote d'Ivoire to neighbouring countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana. Many of these states have large existing populations of displaced people.
Often, the national Red Cross society is the first port of call for the refugees and returnees fleeing Cote d'Ivoire, offering them shelter, food, health care and information.
"This meeting couldn't have come at a better time," said Theresa Leigh-Sherman, first vice-president of the Liberian Red Cross, a country with an already complex population movement situation.
"Apart from those already displaced in our country, the Ivorian crisis has led to the return of thousands of Liberian refugees from Cote d'Ivoire, as well as Ivorian refugees. We need all the assistance we can get to help millions of people who are in dire need," she added.
The meeting succeeded in coming up with a common Red Cross policy on managing the effects of the crisis. Central to this strategy was the creation of a more effective communications and monitoring system involving the Red Cross Societies of the countries concerned and the Federation, so as to offer a more coordinated humanitarian assistance to those in need.
The national Red Cross Societies committed themselves to supplying timely and accurate information to the Federation, and nominating a focal person to exchange information on the Ivorian crisis and its effects on a weekly basis.
"It is a very laudable decision by the Federation to bring together all the National Societies involved in the crisis," said Monique Coulibaly, president of Cote d' Ivoire Red Cross. "With the communications system in place, we will be able to exchange information to ensure a better assistance to the thousands of displaced people crossing our borders daily."
Her Ghanaian counterpart, Kofi Akwaah, shared her view: "We have to be better equipped to deliver suitable humanitarian assistance. I commend the Fedration's initiative."
As well as reinforcing the communications the communications capacities of the Red Cross societies, it was also agreed to step up the training of staff and volunteers in the fields of logistics, information and reporting, disaster management, and health.