Risk of another forgotten emergency in Africa as thousands flee Ivory Coast violence

By jlee

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Africa’s latest crisis is escalating into further bloodshed and suffering and risks becoming another “forgotten emergency” as thousands of Ivorian refugees flee for their lives, international humanitarian organization Oxfam warned today. The organization is gearing up its operations as the number of people escaping the West African country in search of safety and aid in Liberia shot up from 40,000 to 70,000 over just a few days last week. This figure is likely to increase rapidly if fighting continues over the coming weeks.

Oxfam is deploying a team of aid experts and preparing to provide clean water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies to refugees in Liberia. Conditions for refugees and host communities in the border areas are very poor, with people receiving inadequate assistance.

“This could become Africa’s latest forgotten crisis. Thousands of civilians are fleeing for their lives yet the international community is failing to respond adequately. The world risks being seriously unprepared for the escalating crisis in West Africa,” said Chals Wontewe, Oxfam’s Country Director in Liberia.

“For more than three months now, the people of Ivory Coast have been living with the threat of violence, intimidation, economic collapse, and sexual assault. The situation is now deteriorating rapidly and urgent action is needed to avert a humanitarian crisis.

“The conditions for refugees and communities hosting them in Liberia are extremely worrying. People are in dire need of the very basics—clean water, food, and shelter,” said Wontewe.

The large influx into Liberia is already putting a severe strain on poor villages, forcing camps and transit centers to be set up, mainly in Nimba county in eastern Liberia and further south along the Ivory Coast-Liberia border.

The crisis in Ivory Coast caused by the contested presidential election in November 2010 has resulted in months of instability and a steep increase in violent clashes in the past week. As well as rising political and military tensions, many banks remain closed, prices of basic goods are rocketing, and more than 500,000 people have lost their jobs.

“The next few weeks will be crucial. Governments, the UN, and aid organizations must respond to the increasing need and ensure relief supplies reach eastern Liberia before the rainy season starts to hamper access,” said Wontewe. “The situation is quickly deteriorating and requires a rapid response.

“This must not be allowed to develop into another forgotten crisis. Growing humanitarian needs will require much more attention than they are getting at the moment, and must be backed up by significant funds and resources.”