Humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast worsens amid rising political, sexual and ethnic violence
Ivory Coast/Liberia 07 Apr 2011 - Civilians in Ivory Coast are at grave risk as targeted political and sexual assaults increase, tension escalates and an already massive humanitarian crisis worsens, the International Rescue Committee warned today.
Fierce political violence and unrest since late November have created civil chaos in Ivory Coast. More than one million people are estimated to be displaced within the country and over 100,000 others have fled to Liberia for safety. Health care, sanitation and other vital services have virtually collapsed while food and water supplies are shrinking. In Abidjan and communities throughout the west, long-simmering tensions are being reignited.
“What we have now in Ivory Coast is an explosive mix of political, economic and ethnic tension that’s boiling over into incidents like the killings in Duékoué,” says Louis Falcy, the IRC’s country director in Ivory Coast. “Even if the political and military showdown in Abidjan ends today, we’re concerned that looting, hostility, bloodshed, reprisal killings and sexual assaults will escalate in communities across the country.”
International Rescue Committee teams have already documented a steady rise in attacks against women. An IRC-supported network of medical professionals, counselors and women’s groups helping victims in Duékoué, Yamoussoukro and four other districts recorded a four-fold increase in the number of survivors seeking our assistance since December. Victims are telling IRC counselors about rapes by armed men breaking into their homes and assaults and abuse at checkpoints.
The IRC is running information campaigns in displacement camps and communities so that women know where to find help. The IRC is also conducting an assessment of women fleeing into Liberia to learn more about the prevalence of sexual violence in this crisis and increase services as needed.
The IRC is also expanding a program in several turbulent areas that focuses on easing tension in communities and preventing violence. The five-year old project helps communities elect committees tasked with starting dialogue between rival groups and settling long-standing disputes peacefully.
In Danané, where thousands of people have sought refuge from the violence in schools and other repurposed buildings, the IRC has installed latrines, showers and water taps and has distributed hygiene kits in sites for displaced families. Working with partners in Danané and Man, IRC teams have also launched educational and recreational programs for displaced children and are identifying and tracing the families of separated minors. The IRC is launching similar work in Duékoué and Yamoussoukro where thousands of displaced people are living in dire conditions.
But Falcy notes that it is extremely difficult to access the majority of people in violence-impacted regions and that’s cause for serious concern.
“Civilians in the worst-affected areas have little or no protection, are faced with empty clinics and dwindling food and water supplies and we can’t reach them with humanitarian aid,” he said. “We’re especially concerned about people living in embattled parts of Abidjan or hiding out in the forest in the West. It’s urgent that emergency response efforts are stepped up and that relief agencies gain safe and unhindered access to people trapped by the violence.”
The IRC is hoping to extend programs to affected areas of Abidjan as soon as security permits.
Meanwhile frightened Ivorians continue to stream into Liberia every day. The majority are finding refuge in Nimba County. Two IRC mobile clinics, operating in border villages, are treating some 1,200 people weekly – nearly a third of them for malaria. Additional IRC medical teams are working at the Karnplay and Zorgowee Transit Centers where they screen, treat and vaccinate refugees relocated from the border areas, and identify vulnerable individuals, including separated minors and the disabled, for special assistance. The IRC has also ramped up programs for thousands of refugee children.
“Too many of these children have lost homes and family members and witnessed horrible violence,” says Allan Freedman, who oversees IRC programs in Liberia. “We’re providing educational and recreational activities in transit camps and host communities. We’re also paving the way for them to attend schools in Liberia so they can catch up on lost learning.”
In addition, IRC teams in Nimba County are working with local Liberian youth groups on campaigns to prevent the recruitment of children by armed groups – this in a region with a tragic history of recruiting child soldiers for warfare.
Melissa Winkler (New York)
+1 212-551-0972 / +1 646 734 0305
Stefano Gelmini (London)
+44 207 692 2739