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COTE D'IVOIRE: Aid conundrum in fragile west

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
Families wonder how they'll feed their children, and how safe they'll be
MAN, 24 May 2011 (IRIN) - On the same day that villagers gathered for a reconciliation meeting in Bédi Goazon in western Côte d’Ivoire, the scene of a recent massacre, a displaced man named Olivier was shot dead in his village a few kilometres away as he arrived to assess damage to the family home.

In the nearby town of Guiglo (in Moyen Cavally region), where thousands of displaced people have nowhere to live but in churchyards, a traditional leader talks optimistically of community peace efforts, while Olivier’s cousin wonders when and how people will be able to resume their lives.

This symbolizes the difficulties in the west, where post-election conflict fed longstanding tensions and triggered intense fighting, and where communities are now inching back together amid continued attacks.

In Bédi Goazon pro-Laurent Gbagbo forces in March reportedly killed more than 40 people from ethnic communities which for generations had farmed the region’s cocoa plantations owned by another ethnic group - the Guéré.

“The pro-Gbagbo forces, including Liberian mercenaries, took them for [pro-Alassane Ouattara] rebels,” traditional chief Gnonssian Théodore told IRIN. “We recently met and I asked forgiveness from the Baoulé, Mossi and other communities. The war is over in Bédi Goazon; we will live together peacefully now.”

While community-led reconciliation efforts are ongoing, that assurance is hardly universal. As eager as people are to return home, tens of thousands in the west have yet to do so, months after violence forced them out - partly because they lost everything and do not know how they are going to eat, partly because they do not feel safe.

Olivier’s cousin, Ben, told IRIN Olivier (a Guéré in his 40s) was shot dead by men dressed as traditional hunters called `dozo’. Ben said youth from their village of Zehebly - currently displaced in Guiglo - return for one or two days at a time to work on rebuilding the village, but come back to Guiglo for fear of continued attacks.

“The Forces Républicaines [new national army] say they will disarm hostile groups little by little,” he told IRIN. “For now it is not altogether safe.”

A young Malinké and longtime Gbagbo supporter, Amara Koné, says he is regularly harassed by people of his ethnic group who call him a traitor. "I cannot leave the Catholic mission [site for displaced in the nearby town of Duékoué] without being threatened by other Malinké... My hope is to go and live somewhere where no one knows me."

Return process “complicated”

In a 19 May humanitarian update the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said conditions in the west and in the main city of Abidjan are still volatile. Referring to the more than 204,000 Ivoirians who have fled to neighbouring countries, UNHCR said: “At this point in time, UNHCR is not in a position to promote the voluntary repatriation of refugees into Côte d’Ivoire.”

“The issue of returns in western Côte d’Ivoire is complicated,” Philippe Conraud, Oxfam’s West Africa humanitarian coordinator, told IRIN. “People have been affected in different ways by the fighting and they fear different things.” 


Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
Return home - what home?
He said aid groups must be sensitive to the region’s background and people’s concerns. “It is a positive thing that local authorities are taking up their posts and moving towards normality. But all humanitarian actors must be prudent and vigilant, and not inadvertently fuel tensions… or push people to return if they are not ready. The choice absolutely must be with those who are displaced.”

Aid groups must assist both returnees and those not ready to return, said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative Hervé Ludovic de Lys. “It is critical that we support the return of people who want to go back home with concrete actions, but it’s also important to continue to accelerate our response to displaced people in camps and host communities who don’t want to return because they lack security. People need shelters, water, latrines, food, drugs, school kits and protection.”

Flexible approach needed

Aid workers said the situation in the west requires flexible aid operations which take into account the fluidity of the situation. “Given the context, with the movement of populations, the response must be mobile and flexible,” said Sophie Battas, West Africa emergency response coordinator for the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection office (ECHO).

Food and Agriculture Organization senior emergency expert Patrick Berner said conditions and needs are in flux. “In some areas people, who will need agricultural assistance, are arriving regularly… Things change every day.” Countless farming families have missed the planting season.

ECHO, which is reopening an office in Abidjan, has allocated 60 million euros (US$84.2 million) to support humanitarian response in Côte d’Ivoire and neighbouring countries.

But whether helping displaced families or returnees in Côte d’Ivoire, aid agencies face funding shortfalls. As of 19 May the humanitarian action plan for Côte d’Ivoire was 22 percent funded - some $40 million against the $184 million requested, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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Theme(s): Human Rights, Conflict, Refugees/IDPs, Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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