Race to avert humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 14 Apr 2011

Four months of violence, looting and displacement have created a humanitarian crisis that will take months and perhaps years to ease, Oxfam said today.

More than one million people have fled extreme violence and are surviving in the open forest, living in overcrowded conditions in poor villages, or relying on local communities in neighbouring Liberia.

The international aid agency is calling for funding to match escalating needs in Ivory Coast and Liberia. The UN has said the humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast will need $160 million behind it – only $22 million has been committed by the international community so far. In Liberia the UN has asked for $146.5 million to cope with the refugee crisis but just over a quarter has been pledged.

According to testimonies gathered by Oxfam, many refugees are too scared to return home in the immediate future and local communities — who have been providing food and shelter to displaced people — have nothing left to give.

“Oxfam is gearing up for a long-term humanitarian emergency and potential public health disaster,” said Oxfam’s Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Philippe Conraud in Ivory Coast.

“The fall out of the past four months will be felt for a long time to come. Refugees need lifesaving aid immediately and support to help rebuild their lives over the coming months.

“People have fled their homes and sought safety in villages. Small communities have doubled or tripled in size, with 60, 70, 80 people living under one roof. There is simply not enough water, food or space to go round.

“I met a nurse who left her job in a hospital in Abidjan in fear of her life. She is worried the lack of clean water will be devastating for her children who are already extremely fragile.”

A man who fled Abidjan with 83 members of his extended family to live with his brother in Man, Ivory Coast told Conraud: “It is difficult here but at least we are safe.”

In Liberia, where more than 100,000 refugees have crossed the border, a mother of three and 20 of her extended family are sleeping under a poor bamboo shelter with only leaves to protect against the sun after her husband was killed in western Ivory Coast.

In another Liberian village, 45 people — including a woman who is seven months pregnant — sleep in one mud house without access to basic services.

“Oxfam is providing clean water and toilets to refugees in Liberia, but it’s not enough,” said Conraud. “We need more resources to help us support already poor communities who are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees.”

The Ivory Coast crisis has forced more than one million people from their homes. Oxfam is installing water tanks, latrines and showers in Liberia for the influx of refugees coming over the border and has flown in supplies for 70,000 people. The aid agency is now expanding its focus into the Ivory Coast in response to the escalating humanitarian crisis in the country.

Footage and photographs from affected areas in Liberia are available on request. For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795.