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Côte d'Ivoire

Help for Côte d’Ivoire's displaced families in the midst of a national crisis

© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2011/Slavin
Thousands of displaced people, most of them children and women, are seeking safety and assistance at a Catholic mission in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire.

By Patrick Slavin

DUÉKOUÉ, Côte d’Ivoire, 19 January 2011 – In a region of this West African nation that has a history of heightened ethnic tensions, an estimated 15,000 people, most of them children and women, are seeking safety here in a vastly overcrowded Catholic mission.

Nearly all of these internally displaced persons, or IDPs, fled their homes during violent clashes that erupted earlier this month – part of a national crisis that has gripped Côte d’Ivoire since elections were held in late November.

“UNICEF has been assisting the IDPs from the beginning of the crisis, driving through military checkpoints while delivering life-saving assistance to highly vulnerable communities,” said UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire Officer-in-Charge Sylvie Dossou. ‘‘UNICEF staff and our partners have been working on the front lines of this crisis to save many, many young lives.’’

Relief efforts in camps

Homes were looted and burned to the ground during the recent violence, and many of the displaced families now have few, if any, possessions.

“UNICEF is providing blankets, sleeping mats, insecticide-treated bed nets, high-protein biscuits, and is working to unify children who became separated from their families,’’ said Dr. Eli Ramamonjisoa, who is acting as team leader of UNICEF’s field office in Man.

© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2011/Slavin
Children at a UNICEF emergency supply distrbution point in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire. Their families' homes were burned or looted during recent violence.

That office is overseeing relief efforts to displacement camps in three towns in western Côte d’Ivoire: Danané, Duékoué and Man. Last week, for example, UNICEF supplied a 5,000-litre tank providing urgently needed water storage to the camp in Man.

Vulnerable children and women

“But much more needs to be done, and we’re preparing to start education and recreation activities,” Dr. Ramamonjisoa noted, adding that trauma counselling and sensitization sessions on HIV and AIDS and gender-based violence are also planned. “Sleeping in the open air, or crowded into a church hall, makes children and women highly vulnerable,’’ he said.

As part of its humanitarian response, UNICEF this week distributed 1,000 Aquatab water-purification tablets – enough to treat 50,000 litres of drinking water – to 191 households in Duékoué.

© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2011/Slavin
Soumahoro, 18, hopes his school will reopen soon. Many schools are closed in Côte d’Ivoire as a result of the political crisis there.

Buckets and soap were also distributed to the families, including 28 households whose homes were burned and are now sleeping inside a church and a temporarily closed school. Soap and safe water are essential to protect young people from cholera and diarrhoeal dehydration, two major child killers.

Classrooms shuttered

One under-reported issue in the Ivorian ‘crise post-electorale’ is that schools in much of the country have not re-opened since the November elections. Many teachers and education officials are honouring a call by the pro-Alassane Ouattara coalition for civil disobedience, leaving many classrooms in 9 out of 19 regions shuttered.

“It’s closed because of the crisis,’’ said Soumahoro, 18, whose family received water-purification tablets, soap and a 15-litre bucket from UNICEF and the Red Cross in Duékoué. When school is in session, he attends the College Professionel Jean Glaou.

Asked when he would like school to reopen, Soumahoro gave a one-word answer: ‘‘Monday.’’



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