The humanitarian emergency brought about
by the civil crisis in Côte d'Ivoire was rapidly deteriorating, with as
many as one million people having been displaced since Christmas, Carolyn
McAskie, the United Nations' Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, told
correspondents at a Headquarters briefing today.
Briefing them on her upcoming mission to West Africa as the Secretary-General's Humanitarian Envoy for the Crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, she said the crisis in that country was a good lesson, and an example that early warning didn't necessarily mean conflict prevention. Although the crisis had been recognized early, the scale of the conflict that had arisen was such that it could not be contained.
As a result of the early warning, however, the United Nations was actually in a good position on the ground to deal with the situation, she continued. On the political side, the United Nations was working very closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the French Government in a supporting role and was present in the talks. "On the humanitarian side, the situation is rapidly going from bad to worse", she said. The scale of displacement was enormous, caused by the fighting in the west of the country. Two other rebel movements had emerged there, in addition to the initial rebel group, with which the government had negotiated a preliminary ceasefire. The two new groups had so far not been party to the ceasefire.
She said it should also be understood that Côte d'Ivoire had been very much the economic centre of West Africa, with people of many nationalities residing there. That now meant that there were many third-party nationals in the country -- Malians and Burkinabe mostly, but also Ghanaians, Guineans and Liberians.
She added that one of the worst effects of the crisis was on the health situation in the north. The delivery of supplies had been disrupted and the civil servants working in the north were fleeing south to Abidjan, so a lot of clinics and schools were closing and a lot of basic services were not operating. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other humanitarian agencies were worried about cholera, in particular, and a number of other diseases as well.
She said that a major focus of her mission was negotiating humanitarian access. At the moment, access was only available to about the south-eastern one third of the territory, the area controlled by the Government. Depending on the security situation, access in the north was sporadic at best. Access in the west was virtually non-existent, because of the security situation. "So, I will be seeking to contact the rebels and discuss with them the fact that under international humanitarian law they are obliged to allow the international agencies to go in", she said.
She added that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as was usually the case, had remained in the west, where it had a good network and presence, but they were unable to provide full coverage in support of populations there. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was very active on the refugee problem too, she said.
In addition to looking at securing access for humanitarian assistance, she would also look at how the United Nations was organized on the ground, whether or not the right teams were in place on the ground and how they were organized to deal with the situation. The United Nations had put out a funding appeal before Christmas for $15.9 million, to which there had been very little response. But, that was with the realization that many donor countries were off enjoying their Christmas and New Year's break. That effort was now being followed up, and another appeal was planned to go out shortly for the whole region. "I will also, therefore, be looking at the ways in which other countries are affected by the crisis and how they are individually affected. The economic impact of the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire cannot be underestimated for West Africa. In the long-term it will mean serious economic effects for countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger." Already there were signs of economic loss in those countries, through such things as the devaluation of the region's common currency, the CFR, she said.
Because the United Nations was also worried about the economic effect of the crisis on the Africa Development Bank (ADB), which was based in Abidjan, she would also be holding consultations to look at that aspect and report back her findings to the Secretary-General, the Security Council, as well as to inter-agency colleagues.
In response to a correspondent's question, she said her mission would include consultations in the capital and would try to cover as many areas as she would be able to access within the country. After that, she would visit Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia and possibly Ghana, as well, time permitting.
Asked when her first report back to the Security Council would be expected, she replied that the Council was looking at a potential date of
28 January, when the French presidency of the Council would like an interim report, at least, which she said was "only natural". Because of that need, she would report back from the field initially, and then later after her return to New York, expected to be 10 February.
To another correspondent who wanted to know how much of the population was affected by the conflict, she said out of the country's population of some
16 million, about one million had been displaced and uprooted. Another few thousand had fled across the border. But, by and large, most of the population was being affected, because of the disruptions in commerce, travel, health and education. The impact was devastating and it would take the country, as well as the region, years to recover.