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Côte d'Ivoire: long-term development must replace emergency assistance

02-07-2008 Interview

Claude-Alain Zappella, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Côte d'Ivoire, reviews the main aspects of the organization’s work in the country since the crisis began in 2002, and explains why its activities have changed direction in 2008. He believes that the emergency assistance phase is at an end. The ICRC is therefore encouraging the State and civilian society to assume their responsibilities once again now that the political and military situation has stabilized.

 Did the onset of the crisis in 2002 change the nature of the ICRC’s activities in the field?  

Once the conflict in Liberia ended, the delegation in Abidjan’s only remaining role was to provide States and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the region with technical support. In 2002, we opened an operational delegation for Côte d’Ivoire, comprising five offices in the field, which carried out numerous humanitarian activities on both sides of the confidence zone.

What were the ICRC’s main activities during the conflict?  

We worked with all political and military actors involved in the conflict to raise awareness of the rules of international humanitarian law, and of the need to comply with them and ensure compliance. As part of our dialogue with the two parties to the conflict, we informed them about the problems we were seeing so they could take the necessary measures to address them.

The ICRC helped people deprived of their freedom, especially those detained in connection with the conflict. What does this involve?  

During regular visits, we observe whether internationally agreed principles of detention are being respected and we submit our observations to the authorities. We carried out these visits in both the north and the south of the country. From time to time, we had to provide medical and nutritional assistance because of the worrying conditions we found in some places of detention. Now that the situation in the country has stabilized, the authorities should have time to deal with these persistent problems. That is what we are hoping.

What did the ICRC do to help the civilian population?  

At least half the country was left with no public services. The ICRC basically sought to fill this vacuum and reduce the impact of the crisis on people living in the conflict zones.

Water was a particular problem, since untreated supplies can quickly cause epidemics. Owing to the poor security conditions, most of the staff working for SODECI, the company responsible for running the water treatment plants, had abandoned its sites. The ICRC therefore took over.

Health centres in central, northern and western parts of the country were adversely affected by the crisis. We therefore supported them, mainly by supplying drugs and equipment. We also escorted delivery trucks from the public health pharmacy whose drivers no longer wanted to enter the conflict areas alone. Working with the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire, we evacuated hundreds of wounded people and collected numerous bodies during the clashes. I would particularly like to salute the courage of the National Society’s first aiders who assisted us with this task.

We also delivered food and other essential items to leprosariums, orphanages, day nurseries and homes for the handicapped.

Via the Red Cross network in West Africa, we helped thousands of families get back in touch with one another once peace had returned. The ICRC reunited around 100 children with their parents.

 What are the ICRC’s main areas of work in 2008?  

The ICRC’s main focus remains protecting and assisting detainees, in particular those arrested for security reasons. We will continue to work with the authorities to improve detention conditions if this proves necessary.

The emergency assistance phase is now over. Our work now has a longer term perspective – supporting income-generating microprojects, for example, or boosting the capacity of national institutions such as health centres and the National Society. In the north of the country, we are helping thousands of farmers start cultivating their fie lds again by supplying them with enriched seeds and fertilizer. 

We will also encourage SODECI to assume all its responsibilities in central, northern and western areas, where we are still managing water treatment and maintaining infrastructure. The current security conditions no longer justify this substitution.

Finally, we are continuing to support the State’s efforts to comply with and ensure compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL). This involves working not only with the armed and security forces, but also with the National Assembly, the national commission for IHL implementation, the national college for senior civil servants, universities, and the ministry of education, not to mention civil society.

With the Ouagadougou Agreement of March 2007, and the prospect of elections in November 2008, an enduring peace seems possible. Will this bring about changes in ICRC activities in Côte d'Ivoire?  

Things have got better in the last couple of years, although we have to remain circumspect as the country has not fully emerged from the crisis yet. If things continue to return to normal, our gradual disengagement will continue. It is not the humanitarian worker's role to linger on; we must hand over to long-term development. It is up to the State, the private sector and cooperation organizations to redeploy. But this is a transition period, and adjustments can sometimes take a long time. I hope that this transition takes place as harmoniously and as quickly as possible.