New fighting hampers UN efforts to aid thousands displaced in Côte d’Ivoire

UNHCR is seeking more funding to support displaced Ivorians, like these women in the west of the country

15 March 2011 – Insecurity and the resulting limited humanitarian access in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s largest city are compounding United Nations efforts to aid some of the 300,000 people displaced by fighting stemming from defeated president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), via local implementing partners, began aid distribution in the city over the weekend and has managed to reach some 10,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) so far, spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva today.

But fighting between Gbagbo loyalists and supporters of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, the UN-certified victor of November’s president run-off vote, continue to complicate aid efforts.

“On Monday [yesterday], new fighting was reported in the city's commercial district of Yopougon, and overall the situation for Abidjan's residents and humanitarian workers alike remains fragile,” Ms. Fleming said, noting that aid distributions scheduled for early this week in villages surrounding Abidjan have been postponed as the fighting blocked the access routes.

“Despite these conditions, our humanitarian partners continue to discover new pockets of IDPs in and around Abidjan, as well as in Akoupé, Yamoussoukro and Jaqueville in south-east and eastern Côte d'Ivoire.”

Of the estimated 300,000 IDPs in Abidjan, UNHCR and its partners have so far identified some 18,000 people in groups spread across 24 sites, and 19,000 others amid clusters of host families.

The aid consists of non-food items such as blankets, mats, tents, mosquito nets and soap. In addition, the IDPs are receiving food provided by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), as well as medicine donated by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Currently there are numerous checkpoints around the city manned by self-defence groups from both political camps. “In Yopougon our partners have been physically prevented from delivering aid, which is directly impacting people in need of help,” Ms. Fleming said. “At an IDP site in Yopougon, 314 people have been reported ill. We were told that a woman had had to give birth without medical support, while an eight-year-old boy with asthma was said to have died.”

Côte d’Ivoire has been rocked by political uncertainty and violence in Abidjan and the western region since Mr. Gbagbo’s rejection of his defeat in the internationally endorsed results of the election, which was meant to reunify the country after it was split by civil war in 2002 into a rebel-held north and Government-controlled south.

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