As UN agencies examine how best to prepare for the humanitarian fallout of a potential total breakdown in Guinea, donors and other economic actors have to find ways to ease the people's current plight, Hervé Ludovic de Lys, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) West Africa, told reporters on 17 December.
Access to basic services such as water, healthcare and education - already low in Guinea - is being seriously affected by the current situation. "Any further deterioration of livelihoods may trigger population displacements within and outside the country," said a UN statement issued after a 16 December meeting, when UN officials, donors and NGOs discussed the situation.
De Lys said the UN and aid agencies can and must prepare for the worst, "but really we must be working on prevention now, and that is not for humanitarian agencies, but rather for those who work in micro-finance, health and education."
Most donors to these sectors have suspended funding to Guinea - some after the coup in December 2008 that put Moussa Dadis Camara in power, others after the deadly military crackdown on civilians on 28 September.
"We [humanitarian agencies] know we must prepare because we could have a catastrophe, but what can we do to avoid getting to that point?" For example, it is essential that enough rice be brought into the country and be accessible to people.
"This is for the economic actors [to undertake]. If private enterprises - who play an important role - put things on hold while development institutions are on hold, we are headed for crisis."
For now, he said, Guinea is not a humanitarian crisis. "It's a political crisis with grave consequences for human rights."
Donors face the delicate task of supporting the population without somehow also supporting the current government, he said. "It is extremely urgent that we find a solution that calms all the parties involved, and permits [the international community] to resume development and humanitarian activities."
Participants in the 16 December meeting recommended that resources be mobilized to reduce people's vulnerability, and that donors support preparedness and prevention.