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Liberia/Côte d'Ivoire: difficult times set to continue for host communities

24-03-2011 Feature

As fighting in western Côte d'Ivoire intensifies, a new wave of refugees is pouring into Liberia. The Red Cross is providing clean water and sanitation facilities to thousands of people in border communities.

Buutuo town in eastern Liberia is waking up to a new morning. It is seven o'clock, and people are already queuing at the Red Cross water distribution point. Rosine, a young mother from nearby Côte d'Ivoire, fills her bucket and carries it on her head to the house where she has been staying with a Liberian family since early December. Rosine and 19 other members of her family are living with Curtis and the other seven members of his family.

"Curtis and his family are looking after us well, so we shouldn’t complain. But it’s not easy: there’s nowhere to sleep, no latrines and no electricity. Fortunately, we do have clean water to drink and I'm able to wash my two-week-old baby," says Rosine, holding her first child.

The water purification and distribution unit installed by the ICRC, the Liberian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies produces up to 75,000 litres of clean drinking water a day and serves more than 10,000 people. It is making a big difference in Buutuo where the population tripled with the influx of over 20,000 Ivorian refugees from the neighbouring country.

Depleted food stocks in host families

Curtis is hosting twenty Ivorians. He knows how it is to be a refugee: he had to flee to Côte d'Ivoire during the 14-year civil war in Liberia. "When the refugees arrived, I remembered when I was a refugee on the other side of the border. I remember how homesick I used to feel. I know they feel the same way, so I give everything I have in order to make them feel better."

The humanitarian situation in Buutuo and the other border communities is likely to get worse, as many refugees prefer to stay with their hosts rather than move elsewhere. This puts a heavy burden on the Liberian families, who will soon run out of the seed rice that was meant for planting in May. The ICRC and the Liberian Red Cross will distribute seed rice and tools to a thousand farmers in twenty host communities, both to compensate for the seed rice that has been used for food and to ensure their food security in the longer term.

Ivorians join Liberian Red Cross volunteers

Some refugees have brought their businesses with them. Firmin is a tailor from Bin-Houyé. He rushed his family to the border as soon as the shooting started, then rushed back to get his sowing machine. "It’s not a great machine, but at least I can repair clothes and use the money to feed my family."

Marius, a primary school teacher and a member of the Ivorian Red Cross, hopes to find a job in a school. The problem is that many schools are closed because they are hosting refugees. In the meantime, Marius and a group of Red Cross volunteers from Côte d'Ivoire are assisting the ICRC/Liberian Red Cross team that helps refugees get back in touch with their families. "I find it very meaningful to be able to help my compatriots,” explains Marius. “But like everyone else, I hope the crisis will soon end and we can go home."


Photos

Nimba County, Liberia. Rosine (in the blue shirt) carries water distributed by the Buutuo Branch of the Liberian Red Cross. A water purification and distribution unit provides 75,000 litres of water per day to more than 10,000 people, both refugees and their Liberian hosts. 

Nimba County, Liberia. Rosine (in the blue shirt) carries water distributed by the Buutuo Branch of the Liberian Red Cross. A water purification and distribution unit provides 75,000 litres of water per day to more than 10,000 people, both refugees and their Liberian hosts.
© ICRC / N. Kero

Buutuo town, Nimba County. Liberia. Firmin, an Ivorian tailor from Bin-Houyé, brought his sewing machine with him when he fled to Liberia, so he could earn money to buy food for his family. 

Buutuo town, Nimba County. Liberia. Firmin, an Ivorian tailor from Bin-Houyé, brought his sewing machine with him when he fled to Liberia, so he could earn money to buy food for his family.
© ICRC / N. Kero

Buutuo, Nimba County, Liberia. Ivorians cross the Cesto River that separates Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia on small ferries. Some of the refugees go back across the river to fetch food, animals or motorbikes from Côte d'Ivoire when the security situation permits. 

Buutuo, Nimba County, Liberia. Ivorians cross the Cesto River that separates Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia on small ferries. Some of the refugees go back across the river to fetch food, animals or motorbikes from Côte d'Ivoire when the security situation permits.
© ICRC / N. Kero / lr-e-00492