“School has no value any more.”
That is one of many “catastrophic” effects of the six-year conflict in Côte d’Ivoire and the poverty it has engendered, according to a woman in the north-central town of Séguéla who did not want to be identified.
“Most families can no longer afford to worry about whether their child does well in school,” she told IRIN. “Most now send their children to the fields or to sell in the market just to make a bit of money for food - especially the girls.” She added that since state teachers fled in the 2002 rebellion and schools fell apart, the education infrastructure has not recovered.
Slightly under half of Côte d’Ivoire’s 20 million people are now below the poverty threshold, living on less than about US$1.25 per day - up from 38.4 percent in 2000 and the highest in 20 years, according to results released by the national statistics institute (INS) on 27 November.
The study surveyed 12,600 households to measure poverty and the conflict’s impact on households, according to INS. “Poverty in Côte d’Ivoire is becoming increasingly worrying,” Nouhoun Coulibaly, head of the INS, told reporters at the release of the results.
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INS says 70 percent of Ivoirians have difficulty eating adequately and 68 percent cannot afford proper treatment when ill.
The study is done in part as backing for Côte d’Ivoire’s poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP) - a document that describes a country’s macroeconomic, structural and social policies and programmes to promote growth and reduce poverty, as well as associated external financing needs and sources of financing. Côte d’Ivoire - once West Africa’s most stable and prosperous country - is finalising its first PRSP after the 2002 rebellion split the country in two.
The INS study showed that the worst-hit areas are the centre, north and northwest, as well as parts of the capital Abidjan. In the north the level of poverty reaches 77 percent, according to INS.
“The state is creating thieves, prostitutes and liars,” said a would-be university student in Séguéla, who preferred anonymity. Tensions following recent clashes between rebel factions in the city are making people afraid to complain publicly about their situation, residents told IRIN. As in other parts of Côte d’Ivoire violent crime is soaring in Séguéla, where it used to be largely unheard of, she said, as people turn to stealing, cheating and selling their bodies to get by.
“When a person has absolutely nothing to eat and no money, what do you want them to do?”
The student hopes to find the means to continue studying, though many children coming of school age since the rebellion have not had a chance to start.
In the Bromakoté neighbourhood of Abidjan, Fatoumata Diarra told IRIN not one of her five children, aged 4-11, has spent a single day in school. “I can barely afford to feed them once a day, much less pay for their schooling,” the 35-year-old said.
Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
|A child in Odienne, northwestern Côte d'Ivoire|
A recent UN paper on humanitarian needs in Côte d’Ivoire said the conflict “has severely degraded the level of education for children, which was already poor in 2001-02”.
“As a result of the crisis, education of children has in many instances become a secondary concern given the level of poverty and the emergence of other priorities,” the UN paper says, adding that the situation “undermines the fundamental right of children to education”.
“There are still no banks”
In some areas of the north rising poverty is exacerbated by the lack of banks and other financial institutions - closed since the beginning of the conflict.
“There are still no banks,” taxi driver Kone Ibrahima told IRIN from the main northwest city of Odienne. Vendors and transporters in the region have long counted on civil servants who tend to have the most disposable income. “They still must travel to other parts of the country to receive their pay and this leaves them with little to spend here,” Kone said.
He told IRIN that while in the past he could hope to save 5,000 CFA francs ($9.70) a day, now any little bit he is able to earn goes immediately towards food for the family.
He said the worst part is poverty’s impact on the children. “We are able to provide just the bare, bare minimum,” said Kone, a father of three. “We see our children; we know we are not meeting all their needs. It is not what we want but we cannot help it.”