Nine months after fighting ended in Côte d’Ivoire, at least 15,000 displaced people are still in camps, many of the half million returnees require food aid, the groundwork for reconciliation in many parts of the west has not yet been laid - and aid workers are worried funding will dry up, threatening the fragile peace.
“I don’t want the world to move on and say everything in Côte d’Ivoire is fine,” Catherine Bragg, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said on 17 January in Duékoué, 400km northwest of Abidjan.
She was on a three-day tour of the county, which included a visit the Nahibly camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Duékoué which hosts 4,557 people.
“There are still people displaced without water, electricity, and dependent on food assistance,” she added.
Thousands of returnees who missed the planting season are also dependent on food aid for survival, and their prospects for planting this year are poor. Most were unable to return to their fields because their land was taken over after they were displaced.
Bragg launched a consolidated appeal in Abidjan for Côte d’Ivoire on 16 January. UN agencies are seeking more than US$173 million to cover the needs of over three million people from now until the end of December 2012.
“If they don’t receive humanitarian help, tensions could escalate again,” Max Hadorn, head of OCHA operations in Côte d’Ivoire, told IRIN.
To kick-start what OCHA describes as a “vital humanitarian response”, it said the Central Emergency Relief Fund had just allocated $8 million for life-saving projects in the country.
Farmers typically begin preparing the fields in February and planting in March. “If they don’t plant, they will be dependent on humanitarian aid for the rest of the year,” he added.
“We’re here because we don’t have a home to return to,” said Juliette Tehe, who has been displaced at Nahibly IDP camp since last spring. She comes from Niambly, a village 6km east of Duékoué.
Niambly was set on fire in March 2011 during fighting between government and anti-government forces. At least 1,000 homes were partially or completely destroyed in the village, which is still scattered with residents’ charred belongings.
Neil Brighton of the UN Refugee Agency, which is leading on shelter for the displaced, said in the country’s western region at least 18,000 homes had been destroyed, and there was only enough funding to rebuild 4,000, of which 400 had so far been completed.
“The needs are huge and, at the moment, only three or four agencies are actually building,” he said.
Tehe, who remains displaced, said even with shelter, there were Dozos (fearsome looking traditional hunters) in the village, which may prevent her family from returning. “There are people with guns around. All the fields are blocked,” she said.
“It’s our fields we’re worried about”
In the village of Zeaglo in Moyen-Cavally, northwest of Guiglo, a group of women said that since returning to their village, members of their ethnic group had been threatened by Dozos when they attempted to enter their farms. One of the village residents, Marceline Dodien, used to farm cassava, cocoa and bananas, but is now idle because her fields were seized during the three months of her displacement during which she lived in the forest.
The women are part of the Guéré ethnic group which overwhelmingly supported ousted President Laurent Gbagbo in 2011. Tensions over land rights with other ethnic groups predate the 2011 crisis. However, politically, Alice Tiemoko, a farmer, said, there was improvement.
“We are unified now. We think well of the [current] president. It’s our fields we’re concerned about,” she said.
While many Ivoirians express willingness to reconcile, the women said the groundwork for reconciliation was still missing in Zeaglo.
“If we had our basic needs met - maybe, but our hearts are still filled with anger. We want to get back what was taken from us,” Irene Gueï said.
The women blamed “foreigners” for taking their land, but many of the so-called “foreigners” came to the region decades or generations ago, and also claim rights to the land.
Tiemoko told IRIN the different ethnic groups living in Zeaglo got along in the village. “We laugh together in the village. We get along here, but outside we don’t,” she said.
Bragg applauded the return of over a half a million people in the last nine months, which she said was a testimony to increasing security; the resolution of the crisis; international support; and a tribute to the hard work of the international community. But, she added: “There are still substantial needs that require substantial resources to deal with persisting problems.”
She appealed to donors for continued funding throughout 2012, adding that help for the most vulnerable persons remained “an absolute priority”, especially in the country’s western and southwestern regions.
“Considerable needs remain in several areas such as protection of civilians, restoration of means of livelihood, shelter, access to basic services and voluntary return and reintegration of displaced persons and refugees,” she said on 18 January at the end of her visit. “A premature exit of humanitarian actors could aggravate the situation.”