Côte D'Ivoire/Liberia: WFP Scales Up Amid Escalating Crisis

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

WFP is scaling up operations to provide food to growing numbers of people fleeing violence in the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. “The number of refugees and displaced people is reaching worrying proportions and with violence continuing in Cote d’Ivoire it can only get worse,” says WFP’s Regional Director Thomas Yanga.

ROME -- WFP plans to begin assisting 125,000 people over a six-month period In Côte d’Ivoire and a further 186,000 people in Liberia. Read news release

In these two interviews, WFP Country Director for Cote d'Ivoire Alain Cordeil and Deputy Country Director for Liberia Jerry Bailey describe the situation on the ground and the challenges involved in trying to reach and feed the displaced.

First, Alain Cordeil in Cote D'Ivoire:

Cote D'Ivoire

WFP Food assistance will include food distributions and special help for malnourished children under five, as well as pregnant women, nursing mothers and people living with HIV/AIDS. The operation will cost almost US$16 million.

Q: Give us an overview of the current situation in Cote d'Ivoire.
A: There are three general areas where people have been displaced. About 60,000 people have been displaced in western Cote d'Ivoire. Some have fled in the direction of Liberia. WFP estimates that roughly 80 percent have found refuge with host families and others in shelters like schools and mosques. Another 1,300 are displaced in the central area around (the militarily strategic town of ) Tiebissou. WFP is trying to help them. The vast majority -- about 350,000 -- are people displaced in (the commercial capital of) Abidjan. Many have sought shelter with host families; about 14-15,000 are staying in schools, mosques, churches and other places deemed "safe." 

Q: What is WFP doing to help those displaced?
A: WFP has distributed 300 tons of food to some 23,500 people in the west -- enough for 45 days. Likewise the 1,300 IDPs in Tiebiessou have received family food rations for one month, and some 6,000 beneficiaries are about to receive food assistance in Abidjan. But we're facing constraints reaching many people in the country.

Q: What are these constraints?
A: In Abidjan, we need to conduct a survey to find out which people need help. But the city is sectioned off politically, making it very difficult to go from household to household to find out. More broadly, WFP has difficulty accessing many parts of the country due to insecurity. There's also a basic question of transporting food and other goods -- many private truck transporters we relied on in the past are now afraid of circulating. Then there's the problem of the closure of the ports (Abidjan and San Pedro) as well as that of electricity, which is erratic or nonexistent in the north.

Q: Is the Ivorian crisis getting the international attention it deserves?
A: Absolutely not. We've always talked about hidden emergencies. But this is a lot more hidden than we think. First, Cote d'Ivoire no longer captures world attention because of the crises in Libya and Egypt -- in the whole Arab world. Second, this crisis is masked even within Cote d'Ivoire. Because we don't have access to many parts of the country. So we have difficulty assessing both the numbers of displaced people and their needs.

Meanwhile, over the border in Liberia...

Part of Cote d'Ivoire's crisis has spilled over into neighbouring Liberia. WFP's Deputy Country Director Jerry Bailey estimates more than 73,000 Ivorians have fled across the border. He says their numbers, which have spiked in recent weeks, have added new stresses on Liberia's impoverished population.

Q: Tell us about the situation of Ivorian refugees in Liberia.
A: We started to hear about the refugee problem last November (with disputed presidential elections in Cote d'Ivoire). Those numbers kept steady until a few weeks ago, when violence erupted in Cote d'Ivoire. Then we had a rapid influx coming into the country -- about 35,000 to 40,000 people in total. Those numbers have since shot up -- there are now about 73,000 refugees in Cote d'Ivoire. On December 21st, WFP was formally requested to provide food assistance the refugees, who are mostly concentrated in the border area. Most of the host villages are located about 30 kilometers or less from the Ivorian border.

Q: What's been the impact on the local population?
A: The local population has been very accommodating. Initially, when the numbers were lower, a large percentage of the refugees were able to find work in the fields.But their numbers have simply become too high and they've overwhelmed the host communities. In some cases, the numbers of refugees are higher than those of residents of the host villages. Also we're coming to the end of the harvest period. Work opportunities are disappearing.

Q: What challenges does WFP face helping these refugees?
A: Refugees were registered in some 23 villages -- but they're actually being accommodated in a far greater number of villages.

Q: What other difficulties does WFP face in getting food to the refugees?
A: It's very difficult to deliver food to the refugee distribution points. The roads and other infrastructure are very poor. And the refugees are in locations which are very dificult to access. Now, we're now coming up on the rainy season which can start as early as April. So we're struggling to get the infrastructure repaired as best we can so food can be delivered before the rains set in. With the recent insecurity inside Cote d'Ivoire, we've also seen how quickly the numbers of refugees increased. The same could hold true in the future.