UNHCR airlifts aid to Côte d'Ivoire; internally displaced population nears 35,000
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, February 9 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has flown in 94 tonnes of aid to Côte d'Ivoire for distribution among almost 35,000 internally displaced people in remote western areas of the country.
A UNHCR-chartered Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 747 cargo plane carrying 2,450 tents touched down at Abidjan's international airport on Tuesday night after leaving Liege in Belgium earlier in the day. The tents will provide shelter for more than 12,000 internally displaced people (IDP).
It was the first airlift of UNHCR aid to the Ivorian capital for those displaced by the political crisis that followed November's presidential election. More than 30,000 people have since fled to neighbouring Liberia, while UNHCR staff and partner organizations had registered more than 34,800 IDPs in western Côte d'Ivoire as of Tuesday. Most are women and children.
A UNHCR road convoy carrying a further 93 tonnes of aid, including 15,000 blankets, 10,000 sleeping mats, 10,000 jerry cans, 5,000 kitchen sets, mosquito nets and plastic sheeting, was due to leave Accra in neighbouring Ghana on Wednesday and arrive in Côte d'Ivoire on Thursday or Friday.
Most of the IDPs in the west are located in Duékoué district, where some 22,000 people are being hosted in schools, churches, spontaneous settlements or with local communities in surrounding villages. UNHCR is negotiating with the local authorities to establish a temporary camp site for the most vulnerable among the displaced. Other groups of IDPs are also present in Man, Danané, Binhouye, Zouhanhouin and Guiglo districts.
The aid from the airlift and the road convoy will initially be kept at a UNHCR warehouse in the north of Abidjan. Getting supplies to the internally displaced people in the west will be a logistical and security challenge in tough terrain at a time when the race is on to meet shelter and other needs.
"The volatile security situation in Côte d'Ivoire, and specifically in the west of the country, is impeding our humanitarian activities. We need to always keep the security aspect in mind," said Jacques Franquin, UNHCR's representative in Côte d'Ivoire, while adding: "The goal of our staff is to assist people in need as soon as possible."
Franquin said the establishment of the camp in Duékoué district would provide shelter and assistance to the most vulnerable, many of whom are staying in the open. "Many houses were damaged or destroyed during ethnic and political confrontations in early January, so the long-term goal is to put in place a reconstruction programme," he said.
"UNHCR and other agencies in the west plan to establish a social cohesion programme in order to create the conditions for people to be able to return to a home and develop reintegration and reconciliation activities," he added.
The registration exercise completed yesterday by UNHCR, the UN Population Fund and International Organization for Migration, will help the UN refugee agency organize adequate assistance.
Cote d'Ivoire is also hosting some 26,000 Liberian refugees, some of whom say they feel at risk amid the volatile political situation.
By Hélène Caux in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire