LIBERIA Aid urgently needed to Ivorian refugees

MONROVIA, LIBERIA (February 25, 2011) – CARE warns that the mostly forgotten crisis in Côte d’Ivoire has the potential of escalating into a regional humanitarian disaster unless a larger-scale aid effort is put into place.

In the shadow of events in Northern Africa and the Middle East, the political crisis and violence in Côte d’Ivoire continues. The potential humanitarian implications on the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in the region remain a deep concern.

Tens of thousands of Ivorian refugees are putting vulnerable host communities under unbearable strains in eastern Liberia. With the rainy season quickly approaching, there is an urgent need to get medicines, food, shelter, water and other essential items to the border areas.

Every day hundreds of people are crossing the borders into neighbouring countries, most of them into Liberia, where some 40,000 refugees had arrived as of mid-February. The situation is changing rapidly, with the number of refugees crossing the border growing by the day. An escalation of violence in Côte d’Ivoire could increase the influx significantly, with the UN estimating the number could reach 100,000 by April.

The delivery of the humanitarian assistance remains insufficient and slow, in large part due to limited resources. Without larger scale efforts to assist and protect refugees and host communities, the humanitarian situation will deteriorate quickly. CARE Liberia has been among the first agencies to respond on the ground in the border areas.

CARE Country Director Hubert Charles stresses the need for essential assistance to be put in place before the rainy season.

“Once it starts raining in May or June, transport will be next to impossible. The food, medicines, plastic sheets, jerry cans and supplies we manage to bring in by then, the latrines we construct and wells we rehabilitate, will save lives and prevent people from getting sick. Our challenge is to communicate the urgency of this situation at a time when several important events are happening elsewhere on the continent. If the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire escalates while rain prevents aid from getting to refugees, we’ll have a very serious situation on our hands,” says Charles.

Local communities in the Liberian border area are struggling to find shelter, food, water and other essential items for the newly arrived. There is a need for medicines to prevent diseases such as cholera, measles and yellow fever from spreading. Malnutrition is becoming increasingly common.

As always, children and women are particularly affected, and CARE’s aid distribution primarily targets women-headed households. More than 55 percent of registered refugees in Liberia are women, and 62 percent are under the age of 18. The risk of sexual and gender based violence increases as communities become overcrowded, and the UN has received reports of rapes. Women’s health and protection should be a part of any first response to an emergency, and CARE is making sure that all activities take these concerns into account.

While there is a great urgency to the situation, CARE Liberia also emphasizes the need for long-term assistance to host communities. Host communities are in many cases as vulnerable as the refugees themselves. CARE will assist with income-generating activities, such as training in agricultural techniques, distribution of seeds and tools and establishing saving and loans groups.

“These are communities that have still to recover completely from 14 years of civil war and conflict. With a sudden influx of tens of thousands of refugees, they are put under a lot of strain. We’re seeing that in many cases the refugees are in better health than people who receive them. Host communities need a lot of support and they need it quickly,” says Charles.

For more information contact:

CARE Liberia’s Country Director, Hubert D. Charles (in Monrovia):
hubert.charles@co.care.org  +231 (0) 679 79 58

Anders Nordstoga, Media Officer (in Eastern Liberia):
Anders.Nordstoga@care.no +47 90 84 24 58

What CARE is doing

  • CARE is distributing blankets, buckets, cups, soap and sanitary bags to 1,500 households (9,000 people) in Nimba county, 70 percent of which were headed by women, as well as promoting awareness of sanitary risks, such as the spread of waterborne diseases.
  • CARE participates actively in the coordination and joint planning of aid distribution on a local and national level, particularly in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene.

What CARE plans to do

  • Construct 100 double latrines in six communities in Nimba County. Promotion of hygiene and sanitary awareness.
  • Rehabilitate or drill a total of approximately 40 wells within the next six months. (Each well will benefit approximately 500 people.)
  • Assist with construction of shelter and distribute plastic sheeting to 2,000 households (12,000 people).
  • Distribute jerry cans, bucket, cups, soap, washing powder, towels, blankets, tooth brushes, tooth paste, mats, mosquito nets, sanitary towels, cooking kits, blankets, sleeping mats and other essential equipment to 2,000 households (12,000 people).
  • The risk of sexual and gender-based violence is fully considered in all activities. We will ensure that both women and men help identify safe and accessible sites for water pumps and sanitation facilities. CARE seeks to contribute to the reduction of violence against women, girls, boys and people at high risk in a crisis situation through sensitization at community meetings, setting up complaints mechanisms and other prevention tools.
  • Partners and staff will also receive training on promoting social cohesion and peaceful conflict resolution.

About CARE: Founded in 1945, CARE is one of the world's largest humanitarian aid agencies. Working side by side with poor communities in 70 countries, CARE helps empower people to address the greatest threats to their survival. Women are at the heart of CARE's efforts to improve health, education and economic development because experience shows that a woman's achievements yield dramatic benefits for her entire family. CARE is also committed to providing lifesaving assistance during times of crisis, and helping rebuild safer, stronger communities afterward. CARE Liberia’s programming is mainly focused on food and income security, with complementary projects in women’s economic empowerment, access to water, sanitation and sustainable agriculture. CARE has a total staff of 40 in Monrovia and Gbarnga, in Bong County. For more information on CARE's work in Liberia, click here.