Côte d'Ivoire

Merlin warns of humanitarian catastrophe in western Ivory Coast

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Guiglo, Western Cote d'Ivoire, 14th March 2003 (Merlin): One week after the disruption of water supplies and electricity services to much of south-western Ivory Coast, sanitary conditions for tens of thousands of displaced people living in makeshift camps are degrading rapidly.
Personnel from Merlin, the UK Charity that provides healthcare in crises, have noted a sharp increase in acute diarrhoea among the 3800 people sheltering on the grounds of the prefecture in Guiglo. Rapid assessments conducted by the Charity also indicate the number of children currently malnourished or at severe risk of malnutrition has reached 20%, up 6% from one week before. Conditions have deteriorated visibly in the past week, and swarms of flies now blanket the camp. Of greatest concern, however, is the likelihood of outbreaks of dysentery and cholera, which would decimate an already weakened displaced population and gravely impact host communities. According to Merlin's medical co-ordinator for Ivory Coast, Viviane Maranzan, "without water, an epidemic is almost inevitable in these conditions."

Due to the malfunction of the municipal water system, there is now no source of water in the refugee camp. Displaced families are forced to seek water from private wells around the town, these wells cannot provide adequate water and such moves could lead to conflict between displaced and host populations. It is possible there are similar scenarios in other towns in the west, which host large informal camps of displaced persons, but which are inaccessible to international aid agencies for security reasons. In a rapid assessment conducted among the approximately 13,000 displaced, sheltering in Bloelekin on the 7th of March, before the water system failed, Merlin found 18% of children to be malnourished or at severe risk. Insecurity in the area has prevented a follow-up assessment.

Merlin appeals to all humanitarian, political, and military actors in the Ivory Coast to act immediately to help restore the water supplies to western towns in order to avoid a potential cholera epidemic, in a population already weakened by malnourishment and trauma.

For further information, please contact: Brenda Puech on 020 7378 4853/ or Imogen Ward on mobile 07092 382 421

NOTES TO MEDIA

Merlin is a UK-based charity committed to providing healthcare for people in crisis. We provide medical relief to people suffering as a result of conflict, natural disaster or epidemic disease anywhere in the world, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. Our work saves lives.

Since our foundation in 1993, we have worked in over 30 countries including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Georgia, India, Kenya, Russia, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and Chechnya.

Merlin is a registered charity (1016607) that relies on public support and we always ask that a donation line be mentioned when referring to our work. Donations can be made by visiting Merlin's website www.merlin.org.uk, telephoning 020 7378 4888 or by post to Merlin, Freepost LON 15423, London SE1 1BT.