SENEGAL: Confronting aid challenges in volatile Casamance
People fleeing Diabir, on the outskirts of Ziguinchor, in September 2009
DAKAR, 19 October 2009 (IRIN) - Aid workers are evaluating the needs of families recently displaced by armed conflict in Casamance, southern Senegal. Some of the displaced persons have joined families who were themselves forced out of their villages a decade ago.
Aid groups in Casamance face a context of irregular and multiple displacements, sporadic armed conflict, uncertainty over landmines and increasingly violent crime.
“It is challenging to define people’s exact needs, since the host population is itself in a vulnerable position,” Christina de Bruin, head of UN Children’s Fund in Casamance, told IRIN. “Even if newly displaced families have somewhere to go in Ziguinchor, their presence further impoverishes host families; all this has to be taken into consideration.”
Maurice Grundbacher of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Casamance said it is generally after some time, as host families’ resources become increasingly stretched, that aid needs become clearer.
“The important thing is to see the situation after a couple of weeks [of the displaced living with families] when conditions can become difficult.”
The transitory nature of population movements in Casamance also affects aid decisions. In early September hundreds of people fled their homes just outside of the main city Ziguinchor because armed groups had infiltrated their villages. Aid agencies began mobilising relief supplies. Days later many people timidly returned so they could tend to their crops.
Given the sporadic and unpredictable nature of violence in the region, many people regularly shuttle between where they sleep and where they farm.
“One of the things we take into consideration when we assess needs of IDPs [internally displaced persons] is, can they get to their fields,” said Marc Henrottay, head of World Food Programme in Casamance.
While the recent violence has not forced drastic changes in humanitarian operations, the new conditions put personnel and beneficiary security at the top of aid agencies’ agendas, aid workers said.
“In Casamance extreme caution must always drive our operations because there is great uncertainty,” WFP’s Henrottay said. “It is often quite difficult to verify information about the security situation.”
WFP is considering changes in school feeding operations in areas recently hit by insecurity, he said. One option is to deliver food to an area where beneficiaries would pick it up, but that exposes them to risk. “On the one hand we have children living in food insecurity; on the other hand delivering food might pose a risk [to them].”
Another option would be to have students transfer to other schools where WFP provides meals, he said. Throughout the area it is common for children to attend school outside their home villages because of unrest.
In recent weeks insecurity has hampered the humanitarian demining
operations of Handicap International, according to head of mission Camille Aubourg. “It is challenging because one is never certain of deploying from one day to the next,” she told IRIN.
“Uncertainty is the permanent condition. The situation is not bad enough to stop [aid operations] altogether, but not good enough to work at all times without restrictions,” Aubourg said. “Stopping demining and other aid now would be a tragedy for this region and its inhabitants who are the first victims of this situation.”
Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
|Children at a pre-school in Ziguinchor, where WFP provides meals
The latest violence comes as many returned communities are working to rebuild their villages after years of displacement. Aid workers say the fresh unrest threatens the gains of the past few years.
Abdoulaye Diallo, technical adviser for GTZ-Procas, a Germany-funded development organization in Casamance, said it is essential that the progress made by returning populations in recent years not be lost.
“Many communities have put immense time and effort into healing, talking, forgiving one another and moving on to rebuild their villages,” Diallo told IRIN. “When violence increases new fear and mistrust follow; it is critical that we work with communities to help them adapt to the evolving situation and take measures to avoid setbacks.”
He added: “There are tools for adapting to the security situation and helping local communities do so. The essential thing is that aid groups do not abandon this population.”