The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today it will scale up efforts to provide food aid to the increasing number of people fleeing from escalating post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire, amid concerns that the international community has not given adequate attention to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the fighting.
“The number of refugees and internally displaced people is reaching worrying proportions and with violence against civilians continuing in Côte d’Ivoire it can only get worse,” said WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa, Thomas Yanga.
“We are striving to feed hungry, displaced people and refugees, but our movements within Côte d’Ivoire are limited by insecurity and violence, and we are increasingly worried about the strain that refugees are placing on local communities in Liberia.”
Côte d’Ivoire has been beset by political uncertainty, with factional fighting and other forms of violence flaring up in Abidjan and the western region, since incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office after his UN-certified defeat by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in last November’s presidential election.
Yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned that human rights violations, including rapes, abductions and killings, are on the rise with at least 27 people killed in just the past week.
WFP plans to assist 125,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) over a six-month period, with special assistance going to malnourished children under the age of five, pregnant women, nursing mothers and people living with HIV/AIDS. The operation is expected to cost nearly $16 million.
Nearly 80,000 Ivorian refugees have entered Liberia, with many of the new arrivals accommodated by communities whose food stocks are dwindling as the harvest period comes to an end, according to WFP.
“I was at the border in Liberia last week and there are families there who have been hosting people for four or five months now,” Mr. Yanga said. “Both we and the Government are very concerned about the impact on the local population, who are feeding and sheltering refugee families while trying to meet their own nutritional needs.”
In Liberia, WFP aims to help some 186,000 people, both Ivorian refugees and local communities, providing them with 25,000 tons of food at a cost of $35 million, Mr. Yanga said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), meanwhile, voiced concern that the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Côte d’Ivoire is being overlooked by the international community, whose attention has in recent months been focused on unrest in North Africa.
The agency appealed for $46 million in January to respond to the humanitarian needs of Ivorian refugees entering Liberia, but has so far received $5 million of the requested funds and pledges worth $13 million, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.
According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the crisis has led to the closure of schools in 10 of 27 districts in the north, central and western parts of the country for over three months now, effectively wasting an entire school year for 800,000 pupils.
In a related development, Y. J. Choi, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), reiterated the mission’s commitment to the protection of civilians, underlining its complete neutrality and impartiality in carrying out its mandate.
“Besides our patrols and direct interventions in case of imminent danger with regard to the civilian population, UNOCI is documenting, analyzing, investigating and accumulating evidence of abuses and human rights violations with a view to making those who are responsible for such acts, accountable, no matter which camp they belong to,” said Mr. Choi at a news conference in Abidjan.
He condemned last week’s killing of seven women, allegedly by security forces supporting Mr. Gbagbo at a peaceful demonstration in Abidjan’s northern suburb of Abobo.
Mr. Choi also deplored continuing hostile propaganda against UNOCI by Mr. Gbagbo’s camp.
“UNOCI has been, is, and will continue to be, a force of peace and protection, and never a force of aggression and attack. Since they can only return fire only when they are shot at, UNOCI’s peacekeepers are constantly in harm’s way. But this shall in no way discourage us to remain soldiers of peace, and not of aggression,” he added.
The UN Security Council, meanwhile, welcomed yesterday’s move by the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council, meeting at the level of heads of State, to reaffirm all its previous decisions on the post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, recognizing Mr. Ouattara as the country’s President.
Following consultations in New York, the Council also took note of the AU’s decision to appoint a High Representative for the implementation of an overall political solution in Côte d’Ivoire.
“The members of the Security Council commend the efforts of the [AU] High-level Panel and reiterate their support to the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in concert with the Security Council, in their commitment to resolve the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire in a way that preserves democracy and peace,” members of the Council said in a press statement.
They urged all parties to the conflict to immediately comply with the AU decision and reaffirmed their readiness to impose measures, including targeted sanctions, against all parties which obstruct attempts to produce a speedy and peaceful resolution of the crisis.