Côte d'Ivoire

Press briefing by Secretary-General's Humanitarian Envoy for Côte d'Ivoire

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Press Briefing
Carolyn McAskie, the Secretary-General's Humanitarian Envoy for the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, briefing correspondents at Headquarters today, said she was renewing her appeal for more donor assistance and the implementation of the peace accord recently reached in Paris, in order to avert a human tragedy in that West African country.

The humanitarian situation in Côte d'Ivoire was extremely serious and risked getting worse the longer there was a delay in putting into place the peace accord, she stated. Following the signing of the Paris peace accord two weeks ago, the President of Côte d'Ivoire had issued a statement last Friday night saying he accepted at least the spirit of the accord. The international community was now waiting to see whether or not the rebels would also accept a full implementation of the accord and, therefore, come to the table.

She said there were four main elements of the humanitarian situation in Côte d'Ivoire. The first was the number of people that had fled the country -- 200,000 to 300,000, and growing. Many had fled into neighbouring countries to escape the fighting, with the largest numbers being in Guinea and Liberia at the moment. As there had been attacks on so-called foreigners -- nationals of other West African countries living and working in Côte d'Ivoire, some of them for generations -- many of those had now fled in fear of the fighting or because of the harassment.

A second element was the number of people displaced within Côte d'Ivoire by the crisis, which was currently estimated at as many as 1 million. An assessment to be undertaken next week aimed at getting more accurate figures, she said.

Thirdly, about 20 per cent of the population were actually at present without any kind of services. The health situation, manifested by the rise in cholera, yellow fever and meningitis, was deteriorating rapidly, she said. Further, children were out of school and a lot of people were now out of work, she added. This was despite the fact that the rebels in the north were "reasonably disciplined". There was growing banditry now because a lot of people were at loose ends.

Also, in the rebel-held areas in the west of the country close to the Liberian border, concern was growing that the whole area was virtually a no-go area, even to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières, who had not been able to access the area, she continued.

Fourthly, even in the government-held territory in the south, life was not easy for Ivorians. The current attitudes of the Government were not acceptable, as noted by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights in his recent fact-finding report released to the Security Council by the Secretary-General, she said. The Deputy High Commissioner pointed to many attacks on shanty towns by police and gendarmes and harassment by young vigilantes authorized by the Government to provide "self-defence" for their communities. As a result, there were large parts of the south under so-called government control, which did not have any law and order.

She said she was very concerned about the breakdown of society and the breakdown of government in the country, adding that even should the peace accord suddenly "jump to life" and people start getting back to normal, it would take months, if not more than a year, to stabilize the population and the country, because people just would not go back to the north. The only choice was to undertake efforts to help the country reconstruct its services.

Added to that was the impact on neighbouring countries such as Liberia, itself faced with an internal conflict and now having to deal with returnees and refugees and other nationals crossing its territory, she said. Guinea was the largest recipient of refugees in all of Africa and finally saw the Sierra Leonean crisis coming to an end. Now, all of a sudden it had to deal with an influx of Ivorian refugees. That was a very difficult situation.

Although the international community was doing what it could to help, the level of funding was not what she would like it to be. To that end, she would soon be making a new special appeal to the donors, to address particularly the humanitarian needs for Liberia, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, which was the core need. Although her mandate was a humanitarian one, she would also include recommendations that follow-up was needed on the economic impact of the crisis on the region. Côte d'Ivoire represented 40 per cent of the gross national product (GNP) of the monetary and economic union of West Africa -- the former French colonies and the Franc zone. They represented 15 per cent of the GNP of the whole of the region of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

When Côte d'Ivoire fell, the rest of the region would suffer, she said. That was particularly true for Mali and Burkina Faso, but also for Ghana and the Niger and, to a lesser extent, others. The United Nations was revisiting the appeal put out before last Christmas for $20 million, which had been revised upwards to $22 million, she noted. Barely 11 per cent of that had been received so far, and some countries had indicated they were considering additional contributions. The new appeal would be adapted to the current situation and would reflect humanitarian requirements in the five neighbouring States. It was hoped the appeal would be out some time before the end of March.

At a time when governments were making available large amounts of funding for countries like Afghanistan, she was asking for "very little money", she said. The message she hoped to carry to the donors was that a small amount of money would go a long way to stop what was a lot of suffering in that part of the world. One of her recommendations would also be that the international community look very closely at potential links between the rebel movements in the different countries in the region.

Asked by a correspondent why there appeared to be hesitation by the international community in coming forward with assistance, she said that Côte d'Ivoire was not seen as a crisis country. The United Nations and the bilateral donors had had long relationships with the country, and nobody thought of Côte d'Ivoire as a failed State or a crisis country. "It's not in the same league as Sierra Leone, or Sudan, or Somalia. So, my sense is that governments are still thinking that it's a political crisis, and once the political crisis is over things will get back to normal", she said. Her job was to identify the real and actual humanitarian impact of this political crisis and appeal to donors to dip into their pockets.

Asked about the potential links between the rebel groups within the region and whether they were being funded from outside, she said there was need to study those links.

Did she think the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire would impinge on the region's ability to attain the Millennium Development Goals? a correspondent asked. She said her preliminary assessment was that this would be a major setback to achievement of the Goals in some countries. Liberia and Guinea were already struggling, and it was difficult to separate out what the effect was of their own problems against the new burden of Côte d'Ivoire. In Mali and in Burkina Faso, one could clearly identify the additional effects of the crisis, given the inter-linkages of their economies. Overall, however, they had been set back several years on those goals.

She commended the efforts of the international community, especially the ECOWAS and other neighbouring countries, for continuing to seek a resolution of the crisis and keeping Côte d'Ivoire on the road to peace and stability. She stressed the importance of the Paris peace accord, saying that loss of Côte d'Ivoire would represent a major tragedy for the region. "And my sense is that the West African States are more than aware of that, and that they are doing a tremendous job to keep Côte d'Ivoire from falling off the edge, literally", she added.