By the time Denis Bahou and his 22 family members found refuge at a Catholic Mission in the western town of Duékoué in Côte d’Ivoire, the grounds were packed with nearly 30,000 people displaced by political violence.
But fear of attacks, such as those that forced them from their homes, meant there was nowhere else to turn. “Our house was burned to the ground,” Bahou said. He had also seen armed men murder children.
Bahou hid his family in the bush for a week before seeking refuge at the overcrowded church in March 2011. The mission had been welcoming a steady flow of displaced people since post-election violence broke out in December 2010 and displaced 1 million people.
“We had to sleep on the ground,” he said. “My daughter, who was nine months pregnant, even slept outside in the rain. Everyone was sick with something—coughs, diarrhoea.”
Aly Diomande, a Camp Manager for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said his team faced a public-health emergency when they first arrived at the site: “There were five deaths a day, especially of the elderly and children.”
According to David Coomber, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Côte d’Ivoire, a US$365,000 allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was instrumental in kick starting relief.
“CERF funding was a life saver,” Coomber said, noting that funds had been used for camp management and basic service provision; “drastically reducing the death rate and providing basic humanitarian services to the displaced population.” IOM had also relocated people to a new site close to the mission to reduce congestion.
In November 2011, IOM coordinated with Government authorities and partner agencies to carry out the first organized return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Duékoué to their homes in town and surrounding villages.
IOM also used CERF funds to organize several "go-and-see visits" so that people could see for themselves that living conditions in their home villages had improved. On their return, they shared information with those who stayed back in the camps. Many families were reluctant however, because their homes had been destroyed or for fear of armed men.
By the end of the year, some 17,000 IDPs, including Bahou and his family, still remained at the Catholic Mission site. “It’s calm. We should have gone home by now, but our house burned and we have no roof. At least we have shelter here,” Bahou said.
According to Coomber, IOM had begun work to help rehabilitate destroyed homes in some of the worst conflict-affected areas and had provided returnees with items such as plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets and buckets.
In 2011, CERF provided over $16 million to help a wide range of humanitarian partners start relief efforts and keep them going in Côte d’Ivoire. The allocations helped the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization to improve food security among the displaced and the UN Children’s Fund provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene services, protection for women and children, and access to education for children affected by the violence.
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When Denis Bahou and his family got to the Catholic mission a week later, they found a safe haven, but their overburdened hosts could provide little humanitarian assistance. © Laura Burke/UN CERF/UNOCHA