Ivoirians are still crossing from western Côte d'Ivoire into Liberia at a rate of 400 to 600 a day, according to an "initial refugee assessment" issued by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Using data drawn from a four-day mission to Liberia border areas earlier this month, the WFP's study on the Ivoirian refugee influx and food security notes that "refugee consumption is inadequate" and highlights the need for refugees to receive either full food rations or partial rations complemented by supplementary feeding.
WFP also proposes food-for-work schemes for 20 percent of the host community "most exposed to the negative consequences of the refugee influx" and an extension of supplementary feeding activities in the host area.
Most of the refugee population has been concentrated in Liberia's northeastern Nimba County, with a tiny percentage farther south in Grand Geddeh county. Current estimates put the official refugee population at around 25,000, while the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and partner agencies have made contingency plans for 50,000.
The WFP report notes that ordinary households are often hosting between three and five refugees. In some areas, the refugees outnumber the host population; it cites the example of the border village of Loguato, where 5,307 refugees are living with just 1,743 locals.
Among the NGOs most active in dealing with the influx has been Equip Liberia, based in Monrovia, but with a longstanding presence in Nimba. The head of Equip Liberia, David Waines, said emergency funding from USAID had enabled it to recruit new staff and rapidly expand its allocation of medicines and general healthcare provided through health clinics in the 23 areas where refugees were entering.
Improved living conditions
Waines noted that living conditions for refugees appeared to be improving, with cases of 20 or more people sharing one room becoming rarer and better arrangements being made for safe sleeping quarters for women and children. He praised the Liberian authorities for their "helpful and proactive stance" on dealing with the arrival of the refugees.
He stressed that the demographic make-up of the refugees had been shifting, with many more men and adolescent boys now crossing over.
However, males were still being recruited as mercenaries: "Every day I hear another story about somebody who personally knows a family member or friend who is on their way, who has been recruited by the Gbagbo side, or been recruited by the Ouattara side.
"There are a lot of Liberian ex-fighters who are not engaged at the moment for whom it's an interesting prospect. Everyone is expecting a big blow-up," Waines told IRIN.
He confirmed that about 500 people were still crossing the border every day, but numbers could well rise dramatically once food distribution began in earnest. He said initial food provision had been on a pilot basis, targeting just 8 percent of the refugee population, although 50 percent had received non-food items.
WFP has stressed the need to monitor changes in the situation, pointing out that the operational context could change as a refugee camp comes into operation and the rainy season sets in (from May).
Humanitarian agencies in Abidjan and Dakar have identified tackling the refugee problem as one of the main components in their planning for Côte d'Ivoire and neighbouring states while also strongly focused on displacement in the west of Côte d'Ivoire.
In a statement issued from New York on 13 January, Baroness Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said humanitarian organizations were doing their utmost to ensure that aid reached the needy, especially women, children and the elderly, as quickly as possible, while contingency plans had been extensively revised to ensure the UN and its partners were ready to respond in case a major humanitarian crisis unfolds.
"A peaceful and rapid solution to the crisis is critical for the people of Côte d'Ivoire and for the region as a whole. It is important that all parties refrain from inflammatory rhetoric, hate speech and incitement to violence to ensure that the situation does not escalate any further."
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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions