North-eastern Liberia has become home over the past ten days to an estimated 10,000 Ivorian refugees fleeing the outbreak of violence in Cote d'Ivoire. New arrivals are reported every day, and although the numbers have been lower in recent days, incoming refugees say that more people are on their way.
Ivorians are coming in through at least 12 entry points along the border, and registration is underway throughout the area. By Sunday, over 5,500 refugees were registered in the small border town of Butuo alone. Monitoring activities are being considerably slowed down by the very poor state of the roads, many of which are impassable by car. UNHCR is sending teams on motorcycles to the more inacessible areas.
The majority of the refugees are, for the time being, staying in public building or with local people. The situation in and around Butuo is calm, the main problem now facing both refugees and the local community is food shortage. Liberia is itself just coming out of 14 years of civil strife, and this year's harvest was the first since the end of the conflict. Water and sanitation are also critical problems needing to be tackled rapidly. UNHCR, in cooperation with other UN agencies and the Liberian authorities, distributed emergency aid as soon as the first arrivals were reported. It has now been agreed that food distribution will target the host communities as well as the refugees.
The main obstacle to delivery of food and assistance is the poor state of the roads and general lack of infrastructure in the area. On Friday, UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) helicopters were used to airlift two consignments of emergency relief items to Butuo on Friday and Saturday. UNHCR has set up a temporary transit centre to shelter refugees arriving in Butuo. Three water hand pumps are working in the city, and a community health centre is open to all, although there is an acute shortage of drugs.
Should the situation deteriorate, the refugees will need to be moved from the border area to a location further inside Liberia, possibly to the town of Saclepea, 80 kilometres to the west, where an existing refugee camp could shelter up to 1,500 people. In order to move the refugees, however, a number of bridges will need to be rebuilt and roads rehabilitated.
The humanitarian dimension of the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, and its potential impact on Liberia, is of grave concern to UNHCR. The agency is working with other UN agencies and the Liberian authorities to put in place a contingency plan that will meet the needs of the refugees, but strongly hopes that a peaceful resolution the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire will quell a potential influx of Ivorians into Liberia, and allow refugees to return home rapidly.
Community Empowerment Projects Impacting Lives
UNHCR's Community Empowerment Projects (CEPs) have begun to make significant impact on the lives of Liberians who have returned to their communities after many years of absence. In the Southeast, continuous progress is being made in the rehabilitation of schools, health, water and sanitation sectors. Three communal latrines in Big Town have been completed, while a well has been dug and is awaiting materials for completion. The Cape Palmas High School Water Project in Harper is also completed and work on the sanitation project is in progress. Health services are being provided at all the seven health centers to include Pleebo Health Center and Rock Town clinic covered under the agreement with UNHCR.
So far, a total of 16 projects, both CEPs and non-CEPs are either complete or nearing completion in Maryland and Grand Kru Counties. Eight Community Empowerment Projects are ongoing in Maryland County and similar number has been approved in Harper and Pleebo. In addition, residents are benefiting from skills training program under the CEP. Eighty - (80) women have completed training in the areas of baking and sewing implemented by UNHCR's partner, World Vision International, in Maryland.
Meanwhile, in Voinjama, UNHCR's Implementing Partner, Peace Winds Japan (PWJ) has completed renovation work of the Voinjama Public School. It is anticipated that UNICEF will shortly supply furniture through PWJ. The school along with other completed projects will be officially turned over to UNHCR. In the area of agriculture, UNHCR and GTZ assessed several CEP activities initiated in Zorzor and Salayea Districts. An assessment of schools and clinics previously rehabilitated by UNHCR/GTZ prior to the recent crisis in Liberia was also conducted. It was discovered that some facilities are still standing and would need to be rehabilitated.
The Zorzor District Women Care Inc and Mission Inc. organizations in Lofa County have in the meantime benefited from the UNHCR/GTZ revolving loan launched in the area. Some of the beneficiaries are involved in petty business such as table marketing, cook shop, entertainment centers and restaurants.
Also, in Gbarnga, Bong County, UNHCR's IP, African Concern International, is conducting a one-day small-scale business management training session for the Gbarnga Zonal Women. FO Gbarnga Field session will serve as a facilitator. In addition, LUSH is continuing renovations of schools in Zota, Kpai and Sanoyea districts. LUSH has also distributed eight hand pumps according to the districts of return.