UN World Food Programme

Côte d’Ivoire Family Flees Tensions With $50

A group of Ivorian refugees in northern Liberia stand in line to receive food rations of cereals, vegetable oil, pulses and corn soya blend. Copyright: WFP/Jean-Martin Bauer

As political unrest spread across Cote d’Ivoire after the contested presidential election, Roger, 45, and his family fled to Liberia with their life savings of US $50.00. Though the money soon ran out, WFP is making sure that they don’t go hungry while they wait for tensions to ease at home so that they can return.

By Alexandre Brecher-Dolivet

SACLAPEA (Liberia) – Roger says he didn’t hesitate to leave his farm behind after the elections when skirmishes broke out in Côte-d'Ivoire between supporters of the two main candidates.

“I remember the last war,” said Roger of the five-year civil conflict that divided the country between north and south four nearly five years between 2002 and 2007. “I didn’t want to live through that nightmare again.”

So he took what little savings he had – around US $50.00 – and set off for the Liberian border with his wife and youngest son.

A dangerous journey

“We would sleep in the day and walk at night,” said Roger of the perilous, five-day trek. “We were afraid of running into armed groups and thugs. Then, after three days, my son fell sick with fever and diarrhea. I had to carry him on my shoulders the rest of the way.”

Roger and his family were exhausted by the time they reached the Liberian border where they were lucky enough to find shelter with a local family. But after a month, their savings ran out and they started to go hungry.

“We went for days without eating,” said Roger. “My son is eight years old and he’d been sick. I know he could have died.”

A common story

Roger’s story is not uncommon. Over 23,000 people have fled the political turmoil in Cote d’Ivoire, most of them into Liberia, where around 500 new refugees are turning up every day.

But for Roger and thousands of Ivorian refugees like him, things have gotten better since those traumatic first weeks away from home. On New Years’ weekend, a shipment of high-energy biscuits (HEBs) arrived to tide them over while they waited for food rations.

Since then, a ration of cereals, vegetable oil, pulses and corn soya blend (CSB) has arrived to provide for the needs of some 22,500 refugees like Roger and his family.

“It has been challenging to set up a distribution programme in this remote and inaccessible area of Liberia,” said WFP Country Director in Liberia, Getachew Diriba. “But we are now up and running, and getting vital, nutritious food to these refugees.”