Ivory Coast: ACT urges end to political impasse

Friday, January 14, 2011

The month-long political impasse in Ivory Coast is in danger of causing a humanitarian crisis as people flee to Liberia in the wake of killings.

Ivory Coast has been mired in a political stalemate since the results of the national elections of November 2010, with incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refusing to concede defeat to the apparent winner Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo cited election rigging in the country’s north where Outtara has a wide following.

Major global bodies have recognised Alassane Outtara as the new president, with leaders of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) saying they could use force to unseat him.

The disputed presidential election has turned deadly, with more than 170 people killed as a direct result of the electoral stand-off, according to the United Nations, while 21,700 people have fled to neighbouring Liberia to escape the violence that broke out in the election’s aftermath, with just over half under 17 years.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates a worst case scenario of as many as 50,000 people becoming refugees. Women and children have been hit disproportionately hard by the conflict in Ivory Coast.

The fleeing population, mainly from western Ivory Coast, has been walking for several days to safety in Liberia through Nimba. It is thought that there could be more refugees in other border areas.  Those who seek refuge in Liberia face severe shortages of basic facilities such as water, sanitation, shelter and food, in a country where even the host community lacks these basic necessities.

ACT members in Liberia are sharing information with UN agencies the World Food Programme and UNHCR, and take part in combined agency assessments in the border area with Ivory Coast, where a rapid influx of refugees is expected.  ACT has no members based in Ivory Coast, but ACT members Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst and Ecumenical Church Loan Fund work through national partners in the country.

In Liberia, the only ACT member based in the country is Finn Church Aid, which is leading the response. Three national organisations are renewing their membership with ACT.

ACT members working in Liberia have launched a three month preliminary appeal to provide basic survival kits, hygiene kits, emergency health services, emergency water access services, protection of vulnerable groups and basic road repair to ease access to refugees and host communities.  A full appeal will be issued as soon as a detailed assessment of the situation is carried out.