Côte d’Ivoire is at a turning point, with positive political developments in the divided West African country that have opened up space for peace to blossom, while an “underground crisis” of deepening poverty may threaten hard-won stability, a senior United Nations official said today.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Côte d’Ivoire, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, told reporters in New York that the economic crisis was increasing, with some 2 per cent of the population – about 400,000 people – falling below the poverty line each year.
“Donors don’t see Darfur in Côte d’Ivoire and maybe that’s why they’re not forthcoming,” he said.
An aborted coup against President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002 led to a bitter civil war which left the country with a southern region ruled by the Government, a northern region held by the rebel Forces Nouvelles and a neutral zone where peacekeeping UN and French forces have been stationed.
Mr. Dieye recalled that before the political crisis began in 2002, the economy of Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s top cocoa producer, had been growing at 6 per cent per year. Since 2002, he said, the country’s economy had been contracting at a rate of about 2 to 3 per cent annually, which was having a significant impact on the largest economy in West Africa.
Some 30 per cent of the over 1 million tonnes of cocoa Côte d’Ivoire produced was being exported without going through official channels, and investigations had turned up evidence of smuggling from the gold and diamond fields in the west, he said.
The country has had to cope with some 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), 90 per cent of whom have been living with host families, but essential funding for humanitarian activities had not come in, Mr. Dieye said.
In a report last month from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), some 50 per cent of the IDPs said their health situation has worsened, while 30 per cent of displaced children lacked the means to attend school.
Mr. Dieye noted that, while previous humanitarian appeals had received about 50 to 60 per cent of the needed funding, the current consolidated appeal was very much under-funded, with perhaps less than 10 per cent of the needed amount having been pledged so far.
The UN was only able to respond to the destruction of its humanitarian assets in the west of the country in January with the assistance of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which provided $950,000 to invest in life-saving activities and stabilize the region, he said.
While thanking donors for what they had done to help the UN contain the humanitarian crisis, he stated that the size of the problem called for a scaling up of contributions. If poverty was not addressed, he said, the confidence of the people to “buy into the political process” could be undermined.
A recent survey showed that 82 per cent of the local population had confidence in the UN because the world body was present on the ground, giving the people a sense of protection and security, while in some parts of the country, including the north and the west, only the UN was offering basic services and many development partners had disengaged from Côte d’Ivoire.
“But we need resources,” Mr. Dieye stressed.
The UN had “triggered” the spontaneous return of internally displaced persons by establishing minimum security in some areas, resuming a social dialogue and investing in basic services. He pleaded to donors to keep providing funds, so the Organization could continue to scale up its activities.
Asked if it was still feasible to hold the elections scheduled for the end of October, Mr. Dieye said technically yes, but added that Côte d’Ivoire was exceptional because the timeline for holding elections had to be greatly compressed.
Successful preparations for the election would hinge on starting the two big components of the peace process: the process of individual identification for the election, which started on 18 May, and disarmament, which is under discussion. Once those elements had gathered momentum, he said the other elements of the peace process could be further compressed to meet the October deadline.