NEW YORK, USA, 18 April 2011– After four months of conflict, the dark clouds of political uncertainty are slowly clearing in Côte d’Ivoire. For the first time since the crisis began following presidential elections there last November, UNICEF was able to airlift medical, nutrition, education, water and sanitation supplies to the country this weekend.
Chartered cargo planes reached the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, as well as Man in the west and Bouake in the country’s central region, on 16 April.
“It remains difficult for our teams to circulate in Abidjan, but UNICEF is slowly but steadily reaching out to the people to deliver much-needed aid,” said UNICEF Designated Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Hervé Ludovic de Lys.
Until now, the violence in Côte d’Ivoire has made it almost impossible for humanitarian agencies to provide basic necessities to displaced children and families in desperate need. At one point recently, staff members were trapped in the UNICEF office for 12 days. When they finally emerged to distribute aid from a warehouse, they witnessed three people being killed.
Severe food and water shortage
With the country’s health and sanitation infrastructure crumbling due to the crisis, the spread of disease is another serious threat. “There is a high risk of measles outbreak, and there have been three cases of polio in the south of the country already. The situation is extremely worrying,” said UNICEF Emergency Communications Specialist Gaelle Bausson.
Moreover, supplies of essential medicines have been looted in a number of places. UNICEF has distributed essential drugs for an initial 8,000 patients in Abidjan, along with biscuits to treat children suffering from malnutrition.
UNICEF and its partners have also been rushing to provide safe water in areas where treatment plants have broken down. Aid organizations are working with the government to restore water treatment by using generators, as well as informing the public about how to make untreated water safe to drink.
Logistics have made this process very difficult, however, and unsafe water is a grave danger – especially for young children.
Meeting needs of the displaced
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced by the conflict. While many fled to neighbouring Liberia, the majority have sought shelter in camps inside Côte D’Ivoire. The Catholic Mission camp in the western Ivorian town of Duékoué, for example, is now home to more than 27,000 people who were forced to leave their villages. And needs at the camp are overwhelming.
“There is shortage of food and water and sanitation,” said Ms. Bausson. “Even with a big effort from all humanitarian organizations, only 37 per cent of the needs are covered.”
Bah Bonao Sidonie, 41, has been living at the camp for the last three weeks. She lost her son to diarrhoeal disease, and three of her brothers have died in the fighting.
“I couldn’t even mourn my son’s loss,” she said. “I couldn’t even cry because I had nothing in my stomach. There is no water to drink or food to eat.”