Update No. 98/04 on ICRC activities in Guinea-Bissau
10-08-1998 Operational Update
On 27 July, the government of Guinea-Bissau and the military junta signed a ceasefire agreement following seven weeks of fighting. This took immediate effect and has been fully respected by both parties to the conflict. Negotiations for a more permanent solution recommenced during the first week of August with the full participation of both sides under the auspices of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries and the Economic Community of West African States.
Fighting in late June/early July has prompted an exodus from Bissau and other towns. Thousands of people headed into the countryside whilst others fled further afield such as to neighbouring Senegal or Guinea-Conakry.
In the capital of Bissau
Fortunately, Bissau, which is now emptied of between 70-80 % of its population, was only partially damaged by the fighting. Some neighbourhoods are worse affected than others but the electricity plant is still working and water supplies are practically guaranteed across the whole city.
The majority of medical structures are still functioning. However, Bissau's remaining inhabitants (now estimated at between 50-60,000 people) ar e subject to food shortages since supply lines have been affected by the conflict.
In the regions
The internally displaced, who number some 250,000, now find themselves scattered throughout Guinea-Bissau. The majority have found refuge with " host " families (usually relatives or friends) or have returned to their villages of origin. Fears that the new arrivals could put pressure on water and sanitation facilities in their temporary homes have not yet materialized but it is essential to be mindful of this potential problem in order to avoid the usual associated health risks. Demand on local food resources has also increased and, should the situation continue, this could further destabilize host communities. From a local economic perspective, disruption of the normal agricultural cycle means less purchasing power.
Presently, the main objective of the ICRC operation in Guinea-Bissau is twofold; to give those who were forced to leave their homes essential support so as to limit the burden on their hosts and to help the few who stayed at home who are subject to food shortages. To this effect, the ICRC is targeting assistance at the internally displaced in Cacheu, Quinara, Bafata, Tombali and Biombo, those who fled by boat to the nearby archipelago of Bijagos and those who remained in Bissau.
The key focuses of the current ICRC action are:
- for the internally displaced in the regions of Cacheu, Quinara, Bafata, Tombali and Biombo: to continue distributing essential food assistance with the help of the Red Cross Society of Guinea-Bissau (RCSGB). Since the beginning of the crisis, the ICRC and the National Society have distributed more than 300 mt food donated by the World Food Programme (WFP) to these areas and, during the coming three months, will distribute a further 2,610 mt from WFP stocks for the 115,000 internally displaced. Plans are now being made to deliver buckets and soap.
- for those who remained in Bissau itself or who took refuge on the archipelago of Bijagos: again, to continue distributing essential food assistance with the help of the National Society. Over the next three months, 200 mt food will be distributed for 7,000 people on the islands who should also shortly receive supplies of soap and plastic sheeting. Up until the 15 July, the ICRC had distributed some 300 mt food in Bissau and its surroundings. Since then, the ICRC has registered some 40,000 people in 43 districts of the capital who have benefited from some 30 mt food and who should shortly receive some plastic sheeting.
- for those who moved abroad and seeking news from their relatives in Guinea-Bissau: with the RCSGB, to continue to set up a network allowing people in Guinea-Bissau to stay in touch with their relatives abroad through Red Cross messages. The ICRC is presently training personnel from the National Society to join forces with them in this venture.
- for those arrested in connection with the conflict: to continue visiting ICRC-registered detainees and to pursue representations with both parties to gain access and regularly visit those arrested or detained in connection with the conflict.
- for unaccompanied children: to continue to identify these children and, with the relevant authorities, set up procedures to reu nite them with their families. The ICRC has already identified more than a dozen such cases and is now training RCSGB staff in order to work jointly on this.
- for the sick and wounded: to continue to support health structures in Bissau, Oio and Bolama. So far, an estimated 1.5 mt medical material has been delivered.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (the Federation) is also working in the country and is concentrating its efforts on the reinforcement of the capacity of the National Society. It is working in close coordination with the ICRC which is the lead agency in this operation.