Armed clashes in south-western Côte d’Ivoire have displaced thousands of women and children, halted a vital polio immunization campaign, and are threatening other forms of life-saving assistance, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today.
UNICEF said fighting in and around the town of Soubré in the south-western province of Bas-Sassandra has displaced at least 4,000 persons, mostly women and children, forced a halt to an immunization campaign planned with the health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO) to curtail the spread of a form of polio reported in the area, and prevented UN aid agencies from accessing affected people.
Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that despite the end of a post-electoral crisis, the humanitarian situation in the country remained “alarming” for tens of thousands of civilians.
The country’s political crisis ended when former president Laurent Gbagbo surrendered on 11 April, following months of deadly violence that erupted in the wake of his refusal to step down after he lost the UN-certified presidential run-off election last November to Alassane Ouattara.
In today’s statement, Hervé Ludovic de Lys, UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, said, “This recent outbreak of insecurity is putting on hold key child survival activities such as vaccinating against polio which would prevent children from being exposed to a virus that could leave them paralyzed for life.” Three cases of polio have been confirmed in the area.
A national polio immunization campaign, including the district of Soubré, is planned to start this Friday if security conditions allow, he said.
“As the country is getting on the path to stability and recovery we should not overlook pressing humanitarian needs in localized areas of the country where swift humanitarian response is still required to save the life of women and children,” Mr. Ludovic de Lys said.
A UNICEF statement released today said critical needs remain unmet such as decent shelters, water and sanitation facilities and emergency health services.
“The risk of widespread epidemics is becoming high with the poor health conditions of displaced populations being compounded by the start of the rainy season and the poor quality of health services delivery in the current post-crisis situation.
“UNICEF fears that the overall conditions of displaced women and children could further deteriorate if safe humanitarian access is not quickly restored to allow rapid assessments and delivery of aid. The situation could possibly be worse in other parts of the southwest region of Côte d'Ivoire but so far the lack of safe access does not allow aid agencies to draw a clear picture of the situation on the ground.”