Lack of infrastructure and preparedness in western Cote d'Ivoire continues to block many war-displaced families from reclaiming their homes and farms and this could trigger food shortages and hamper recovery efforts, UN officials warn.
“Whatever assistance is available, if these people cannot return to their regions of origin, no matter what we do we won't see the results we need,” Abdou Dieng, UN World Food Programme representative, said on 4 July as WFP announced a new strategy for Cote d’Ivoire.
Over 700,000 people were classified “displaced” by the UN refugee agency in March 2007. Most of them fled their homes and land in 2002 and 2003 in the aftermath of ethnic strife and a brief civil war that divided the country between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south until a peace accord in March this year.
Aid agencies say the gradual return of those people - many of them migrants from neighbouring countries who have been farming in Cote d’Ivoire for decades - to their homes and coffee and cocoa plantations in the west poses the greatest humanitarian challenge they face today.
WFP has announced a US$41.2-million aid programme focused on helping Cote d’Ivoire reconstruct and recover after five years of conflict.
Compared to the agency’s previous strategy for Cote d’Ivoire, resources for emergency relief are down from 30 percent to five percent of the overall budget, the bulk of assistance going towards projects like assisting families with farming and rebuilding destroyed infrastructure so people can access food markets again.
“Funds to back rehabilitation in these returnee zones are absolutely essential right now,” said Jacques Seurt of the International Organisation for Migration. “There is no getting around this task of helping people return to their land.” In many areas even the “minimum conditions” like infrastructure, local government and community recognition of the right to return are not yet in place, he said.
Despite the rapid progress of the peace accord, “long-term effects of the crisis, including widespread food insecurity, are expected to persist,” according to WFP’s project document.