United Nations agencies on Tuesday launched a joint appeal for over US $3.6 m to help some 20,000 people in northern Guinea Bissau made vulnerable by fighting between Guinea Bissau military and rebels from neighbouring Senegal.
Clashes between Guinea Bissau soldiers and a faction of the Senegalese secessionist group, the Movement for the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) from the region that borders Guinea Bissau to the north, raged in northern Guinea Bissau’s between 15 March and the end of April.
Some 10,000 people, 80 percent of whom are women and children, fled villages on the Guinea Bissau side of the border. A further 2,500 people fled over the border into Senegal. Most of the displaced and refugees are staying with friends and relatives placing a substantial burden on limited resources, said the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, (OCHA), which launched the emergency flash appeal.
A series of recent studies by UN agencies have revealed that anti-personnel and tank mines are the main safety concern in the region, and are preventing residents from accessing their homes and farms.
Landmines recently killed some 13 civilians and several more were wounded along the main roads close to the Senegal border, said OCHA.
Guinea Bissau is a small country of just 1.4 million people with average annual income of less than US $250 a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Cashew nuts are the country’s main export. The cashew harvest ought to be in full swing in northern Guinea Bissau but landmines are preventing farmers from going into their fields, said OCHA.
As the fighting raged, some 20,000 people around Varela and Susana in the far northwest of Guinea Bissau were cut-off from the rest of the country by landmines. Though the fighting has died down, problems remain for residents, said OCHA.
“While traffic has gradually resumed, the affected population still lives under precarious conditions, facing serious problems related to poor shelter and sanitary conditions as well as limited food and water supplies,” said OCHA.
Most of the US $3.64 m will be spent on food aid, though clearing landmines will make up the second largest single expense and has been allotted US $727,000.