Guinea-Bissau

OCHA Mission to Guinea-Bissau, 6-11 and 17-24 Jun 2005

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Reminder on Guinea Bissau

1) Guinea Bissau ranks 172nd out of 177 countries (HDI 2004, UNDP);

  • 80% of State budget is assured by external aid;
  • 60% of the population unemployed; 60% population below poverty line, out of these 20% lives in extreme poverty (less than US$1 p/day).
  • Dysfunctional state of social services delivery, transport, telecommunications, and roads infrastructures;
  • State unable to regularly pay salaries, leading to potential violence or acute crisis in an electoral period where one of the candidates has already contested the results of the election.
2) In order to address some of the above-mentioned issues, UNDP has extended this week the duration of the Emergency Economic Management Fund, the trust fund to channel donor contributions for budgetary support. For the remainder of the year, the financing gap of the state budget amounts to U$46 million, in order to cover the minimum functioning of the state institutions.

3) As part of the ongoing peace building efforts, the UNCT has prepared a transition strategy, focusing on quick impact and micro project initiatives, aiming to generate increased social and economic benefits for the population. Financial resources will be necessary to materialize these initiatives. A funding request has been made through the Regional CAP mid-year review.

4) The purpose of this mission was to support the UNCT in the finalization of a contingency plan drafted in direct relation with the potential violence which may erupt during the presidential elections due to start on 19 June. An inter-agency contingency plan has been prepared and further practical mechanisms were put in place. This contingency plan includes several scenarios and will allow the UN system to respond immediately, though with limited capacity, to a possible crisis. This capacity will then be expended with the arrival of the assistance from neighboring Senegal within a couple of days. Agencies in Dakar are kept fully aware of the potential needs that may be required. OCHA has strongly suggested that a clear time-line be defined during which the UNCT in Bissau should be able to react on its own.

Action taken by the UNCT.

5) The UNCT has set up several working groups, and in the perspective of a potential electoral crisis, the inter-agency Emergency Preparedness and Response working group has taken the lead in coordinating the preparedness. OCHA has suggested that life-saving working groups (Food chaired by WFP, water-sanitation by UNICEF and ICRC, health-nutrition by UNICEF and WHO, non-food by ADRA and protection under an Inter-agency group with UNOGBIS-UNICEF-UNFPA-OCHA) must be set up and meet on a regular basis to assess the level of preparedness in each of these sectors. The lack of availability of large international NGOs in the country leaves agencies with limited options. Contrary to previous crisis, most of the international NGOs identified should stay in the country. Only 2 would relocate during a potential crisis (SNV and Handicap Intnl).

6) Four agencies (UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO and WFP) have at this date already finalized their technical contingency plan and actively made it operational. No specific preparedness plan was undertaken for shelter but ADRA, usual implementing partner of the UNHCR, has accepted to take responsibility with HCR's support and could provide an initial assistance to 3000 IDPs. It must be recalled that in previous crisis, IDPs have been able, at least initially, to get the support of residents in the area of displacement, until a larger assistance was made available.

Cholera epidemic in Bissau city

7) The Ministry of Health of Guinea Bissau officially declared (21 June) an outbreak of the cholera epidemic in the capital. The first cases of diarrhea were reported on 11th June. Total number of cases registered to date is 280 and 7 deaths. For the record, this follows an outbreak of the cholera epidemic declared at the end of 2004, contained in the Bijagos Islands of Guinea Bissau. Daily emergency meetings are being held by the Ministry of Health to respond to the epidemic, with the participation of the various commissions/ departments, UNICEF, WHO, and the Bissau Municipal Chamber. The Minister of Health appealed for collaboration from all partners, including international organisations, for the response to the epidemic. Based on a detailed assessment of needs, a response plan has been presented and implemented by 24 June by the MoH. This epidemic is of particular concern to the authorities given the fact that the rainy season has begun, thus increasing the risk of contamination.

Finalized by 23 June

  • Humanitarian network is fully identified (point of contact, relevant humanitarian information passed to the UN). Action: coordination cell/OCHA
  • Finalization of NGOs who does what where list. Action: OCHA
  • Operationalization of contingency plans for UNICEF, UNFPA and WFP. Yet to be finalized: WHO and ADRA
  • Assessments checklist. Consolidated quick assessment sheet finalized by OCHA and endorsed by UNCT.
  • Protection of IDPs: think-tank to be constituted: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNOGBIS, OCHA and ICRC (to be confirmed). UNOGBIS Human Rights officer to be confirmed as essential staff. DSS already informed by OCHA.
  • The Emergency Response team has endorsed on 21 June immediate action plan drafted by OCHA.
  • Timeline for assistance coming from abroad. Action: Each agency in relation with their colleagues in Dakar of elsewhere.
  • Confirmation of availability of stand-by arrangements as mentioned in Contingency Plan. Action: Each agency
  • Security arrangements: DSS is recruiting a national officer and immediate actions plan shared with DSS.
Latest update on 25 June

8) Kumba Yala supporters staged an unauthorized protest walk through the city on 24 June, heading to the headquarters of the Electoral Commission, protected by the security forces. Though Kumba Yala has contested results of the first round of elections, his party, the PRS, could not substantiate allegations of potential fraud. PRS secretary general who called for this march has been arrested and 3 to 4 PRS supporters were shot and killed by the security forces.

9) The fact that the army remained divided, potentials for an open support for Kumba Yala at this juncture does not appear as imminent at all. On the contrary, the army has played up to now a very neutral role. It is widely expected that the second round of the election might take a more dynamic turn.

10) Kumba Yala, though in the third position, may actually be the winner of this first round. PRS constituency will be on sale for the second round and Kumba may sell dearly his support to one or the other incumbent. Contrary to Vieira and Malam, Kumba constituency is ethnically homogenous (Balante account for roughly 25% of the population according to 1991 last census and not 30% as reported in an OCHA report). Given the social environment of Guinea Bissau, these supporters will be easily manipulated and could act independently of any political agreement.

11) Amongst the 13 candidates, it is important to underline that the old guard has won these elections. The future of the country will be in the hands of a group of old men who have already proved in the past their limits, to say the least. This of course does not let us much hope in terms of radical reforms the country would need to face the new challenges, including one coming very strong, i.e. the oil issue. The next president is often portrayed as the first oil president.

12) In terms of contingency, the UN has embarked on an intense preparedness program, UNICEF and WFP have already moved goods to Bafata, as we witness during a mission undertaken there on 22 July. All sectoral groups have been constituted and have been strongly advised to meet to finalize the operationlization of the plan. The plans on food, water, health and reproductive health are ready. Non-food, supposedly taken up by ADRA, did not actually kick off. Should displacement take place in the rainy season, an increased effort still remains to be done. UNICEF and Action Aid will also participate to this effort.

13) Another area of concern is sanitation. The national Red Cross has a supply of hoes to build latrines but capacities may remain insufficient if a serious crisis develops.

14) The cholera epidemic was circumscribed to some sections of Bissau at the end of the mission. 280 cases had been identified and 7 deaths occurred. WHO and MINSAN had taken the lead and no cases had been reported out of Bissau. The biggest concern is linked to the movement of population out of the city, should the security situation deteriorate.

Bissau, 10 June 2005
Daniel Augstburger
Senior Emergency Officer
Coordination and Response Division
OCHA Geneva

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.